As a massage therapist, I work closely with the nervous system in clients’ bodies. The nervous system is a complex collection of nerves and specialized cells known as neurons that transmit signals between different parts of the body. It is the body’s electrical wiring. Massage positively affects every system in your body, but today we are solely focusing on the effects with the nervous system.
One of the reasons the nervous system plays an important role in our body and health is because it works with the brain to communicate with every cell and organ in our bodies. There are many books and chapters dedicated to the education of the nervous system and the body, but for this blog, I’m going to simplify it the best I can. It is a topic clients often ask about.
Therapeutic massage stimulates the nervous system, helps to produce hormones that have tremendous (documented) benefits on the body, and also decreases out of balance chemicals. The communication within the body to help release and produce hormones and chemicals for a calming effect is one of the many benefits of therapeutic massage.
Massage offers sedating effects to help the body heal, rest, function, and restore its balance. Massage increases endorphins (the body’s natural pain reliever) to help promote healing, decrease swelling, and speed recovery by bringing more oxygen to the tissues via the circulatory system. Massage always increases your circulation and in turn works to increase every system in your body.
Massage increases available dopamine for increased joy, enthusiasm, and what we basically call our happy chemical. Massage also increases serotonin, producing a calming effect. This calming effect gives the body a biofeedback response to aid in relaxation and healing.
Massage also decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s the body’s response to stress. Cortisol is designed for our body to benefit a short term problem. The problem is that too much stress and cortisol in your body produces many health problems long term. The overproduction and stimulation of cortisol can produce high blood pressure, fatigue to your adrenal glands and kidneys, stomach acid problems, infertility problems, increased inflammation, fluctuations in blood sugar, imbalanced thyroid production, and decreased testosterone. There are many more studied effects of too much cortisol, but these are the main ones I frequently seen as a massage therapist and nurse.
A main focus in massage is the balancing and stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system—the “rest-and-digest” system. When we are very busy and stressed, we release too many chemicals and hormones for our body to break down. Over time, these out of balance chemicals tax certain organs, affecting your health. I believe to maintain health and to aid in healing, we can help the body in its balance and restorative function.
For example, let’s say you have a bad case of heartburn. What do you normally do? Most of us grab an antacid or some sort of alkalizer to balance it out. This is what massage does for the body through the nervous system and balancing of the hormones.
Massage is a very powerful aid for the body. Massage helps the body in its superpower to heal itself. The body and its brain and nervous system have the wiring and function as a team. I like to think of massage as a team player. The massage and therapist are not the healers themselves, but rather the helpers who assist the body in its capabilities.
There are many tools that help stimulate the pns system, such as meditation, a relaxing environment, yoga, deep breathing, being in nature, and anything bringing a relaxing feeling to your body and mind. I recommend trying as many as you can to find what is most beneficial to you. Just be aware that there is much to offer in helping your body achieve and maintain health and balance.