In honor of National Massage Therapy Awareness Week, today we are going to talk about the nervous system and how massage can affect it. The nervous system works with the endocrine system to keep the body in balance. Nerves send electrochemical signals between the central and peripheral nervous systems. Massage can positively affect the entire nervous system but today, we are going to focus on a division of the peripheral nervous system known as the autonomic nervous system. This system consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic controls our flight-or-fight response and the parasympathetic focuses on rest-and-digest activities. Both of these responses are involuntary.
Another component of the sympathetic system is the production of cortisol in response to the release of epinephrine during flight-or-fight. Cortisol helps us cope with stressful situations but the release of this helpful hormone starts to reduce when we experience stress for long periods of time. This results in a major reduction in one’s ability to cope even when faced with minor stressors. Cortisol also slows down white blood cell activity which lowers our immunity and makes us susceptible to disease.
Massage can stimulate the parasympathetic system and sedate the sympathetic system. We are more relaxed and less anxious and stressed. Massage can release and reduce emotional stress by increasing a restful state. Massage also lowers cortisol production by increasing a parasympathetic state. This leads to an increase in immunity and therefore fewer illnesses. Pain is also reduced through the release of emotional stress held in tense muscles and, overall, our normal response to stress is put back into balance.
So come on in and help put yourself into a state of equilibrium!