Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Effect of Massage Strokes

Fundamentals of Massage Task 2
The Effect of Massage Strokes by Sam Steven

The effects of massage on the autonomic nervous system

The effects of massage on the autonomic nervous system depend on among other factors; where on the body the massage is applied to and the technique(s) used. Slow, gentle and smooth techniques such as effleurage applied to areas of the trunk will cause relaxation through the parasympathetic division of the nervous system. Muscular stimulation may decrease and steady heart rate, increase activity of the digestive system and relax sphincters and increase vasodilation in the arterioles of skeletal muscle. This may cause drowsiness and a general state of relaxation.

Some forms of massage applied in a faster more vigorous method can be used in order to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system will cause some of the following effects; increased heart rate, dilated bronchioles allowing more oxygen to reach the alveoli which would increase oxygen exchange, increased muscle strength, muscle tone and decreasing digestive functions. These effects can be beneficial for sport or competition preparation.

The effects of massage strokes

Touch/Holding includes the primary physical contact between massage practitioner and the client. Therefore it is mandatory for the therapist to create a welcoming, reassuring and effective impression during this stage. As it is generally a precursor to strokes such as effleurage which encourage relaxation, performed correctly touch and holding will also create a sense of relaxation to the muscles, decrease and steady heart rate, decrease breathing rate and a promote a general state of relaxation. Performed less appropriately it may promote anxiety in the client, increase heart rate, increase breathing, cause rigidity and tension in muscles and a general state of discomfort for the client.

Effleurage is a natural and frequently used massage technique. At the start of a massage it is beneficial in establishing initial contact with the client and promotes relaxation. Effleurage is a rhythmical technique which increases blood flow to the area being massaged. This allows extra nutrients to the area of the massage. The increased blood flow also helps to remove wastes from that area. Effleurage assists in relaxing and stretching muscle groups and relieving pain/tightness in the muscles. Speed and pressure of effleurage may vary to create either a soothing affect, (slow, gentle) or a more stimulating affect (deeper, faster) which may be used prior to a sporting event.

Petrissage covers a range of similar techniques which focus on lifting or rolling muscles and associated tissues. Petrissage is also a rhythmical technique and like effleurage should vary in pressure and speed. Petrissage techniques include: Cross-overs, Kneading, Rolling, and Wringing. Petrissage techniques assist by dilating local blood vessels increasing local blood circulation increased nutrients to the area and removal of unwanted wastes, increasing muscle tone, stimulate sebaceous glands creating softer skin, may be used to stimulate muscles for vigorous activity or sport, stretch muscle and associated tissues which helps to release adhesions.

Compression is a muscle and nervous system stimulation technique rather than a relaxation technique. It is applied to the belly of the muscle and can be used at varying pressure levels and speed depending on depth of tissue and the desired effect. “The pressure used is always within the client's pain tolerance” (Massage Stroke Glossary). Pressing downward into the muscle tissue against the bone causes the muscle to spread and the fibres to stretch. In order to prevent overstretching and damage to the muscle, the spindle cells of the muscle stimulate it to contract. The stimulated nerves can control the muscle to reset to its normal resting length while the application of compression technique continues.

Tapotment is a double handed ‘percussion’ technique in which the hand position can be altered to perform a range of similar strokes including cupping, hacking, pounding and clapping. This technique is used to stimulate sensory nerves delivering stimulatory signals to the tissues to either relax the muscle or alternatively to encourage the muscle to fire, brisk application may be used prior to activity or sporting event as it stimulates the nervous and muscular system, increase blood flow, nutrients, oxygen and waste material, increase circulation of lymph. Tapotment is sometimes used on the chest wall of clients to help loosen mucus in the air passages

Vibration is a technique involving short rapid shaking or vibrations to an area of the client in order to promote relaxation to that muscle. It is also often used to add variety to the massage session where the clients body has adapted to continued or familiar massage strokes. Vibration works to ‘wake up’ muscles by stimulating sensory nerves. “The massage practitioner can use manual vibration to stimulate muscles by applying the technique at the muscle tendons for up to 30 seconds. When this is complete, the antagonistic muscle pattern relaxes through neurologic reciprocal inhibition.” (Fritz, 2009). “Vibration is particularly helpful to people suffering from low-back pain.” (Basic Techniques).

Other effects of massage

Blood flow is increased due to increased temperature to a localised area being massaged. Blood vessels are encouraged to dilate which allows greater circulation, blood flow and therefore greater exchange of oxygen and nutrients as well as removing toxins/wastes from that area.

Massage can increase the rate of lymph flow by speeding up the rate at which interstatial fluid is transferred into the lymphatic system. This enhances the circulation and transportation of waste fluid and toxins away from the tissues.

Massage is beneficial in releasing muscle tension. Muscles and associated tissues can become chronically contracted due to stress or overuse. Muscles may be massaged in order to stretch the tissue, releasing adhesions or bound muscle fibres. Increased blood circulation allows increased gas exchange bringing more oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, lactic acid and other wastes allowing the muscle to heal.

Massage is a beneficial treatment for the connective tissues of the body. As previously stated massage releases muscular tension, increases blood flow and circulation which acts as a transportation of oxygen, nutrients and also wastes to and from the body’s tissues and organs. It increases the lymphatic system and can also improve the range of motion at joints due to the mechanical improvements of the muscular tissue and pain relief. This can assist in decreasing passive and active stiffness in the joints and bones.

Massage also influences the neuroendocrine system and chemicals which are naturally produced in our body. Chemicals such as Dopamine and Serotonin influence the way we act or feel. Greater amounts of these chemicals are released into our system during massage. Dopamine affects our mood and levels of concentration. Higher levels of Dopamine promote happiness, alertness, enthusiasm. Serotonin also influences our mood as well as satiety enabling us to resist or avoid cravings. Levels of serotonin also influence the sleep/wake cycle which has an effect on concentration levels and also influence sleep patterns.

Sleep patterns are influenced by the presence or absence of epinephrine and norepinephrine hormones related to the sympathetic nervous system. If levels are low the person will show signs of drowsiness, lack of enthusiasm and arousal. Too high levels and the person will be too aroused to sleep. Massage helps to regulate levels of these hormones. These hormones and the effects also contribute to the person’s concentration levels.

Digestion may be enhanced by the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system which will increase digestive activity assisting the contraction of smooth muscles which propels the contents of the digestive organs. This process is called peristalsis. This stimulation can also help to relax sphincters.

Massage can reduce blood pressure by encouraging vasodilation of the blood vessels. This increases the volume of blood which can be transported in the blood vessels.

Pain can be affected massage in a number of ways. By releasing muscular tension. By increasing circulation of both the blood and lymphatic systems to transport more nutrients and oxygen to assist with repair and removal of waste fluids. The release of hormones which act to nullify pain symptoms or assist in the tissue repair process such as endorphins or cortisol. The reassuring, relaxing and therapeutic sense of touch with rhythmic strokes and varying degrees of pressure during massage help to alleviate symptomatic pain even though often for a short period of time.

Massage also releases oxytocin hormone which as well as being involved in pregnancy is said to assist with Bonding. This includes intimacy in a relationship, between parent and child or assist in creating an intimate or reassuring sensation during a massage session.

Reference List:

Massage Stroke Glossary. Massage Therapy 101. Retrieved March 30 2009 from

Fritz, S. (2009). Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage. (4th Ed). Vibration (pp. 292-293). Missouri: Mosby Elsevier.

Basic Techniques of Swedish Massage. Massage Therapy. Holistic Online. Retrieved April 1st 2009 from


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