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Massage is a systematic, therapeutic movement and kneading of the soft tissues of the body. The word is derived from the Greek ‘masso’, to knead and the Arabic ‘mass’, to press gently. It has been used as a form of therapy for thousands of years and touch is the most instinctive response to pain.
Touch is an essential requirement for healthy development in early life and research has shown the babies who have received massage from their mothers have increased weight gain, increased nerve and brain cell development and better hormonal functioning and cell activity. Earliest records of the use of massage as a therapy come from China over 5,000 years ago.
The use of massage in the West became more popular in the 16th Century when a French doctor, Ambroise Pare incorporated a more anatomical and physiological approach. A Swede, Per Henrik Ling, developed a system of massage and gymnastics in the early 19th Century which became what we now know as Swedish Massage.
How Does Massage Work?
The relationship between the exterior and interior of the body is closely interlinked via the nervous system and it has been found that by stimulating specific areas on the surface of the body can have a corresponding effect on the internal organs and systems of the body. The dermis layer of the skin contains nerve endings which respond to touch and, on stimulation, the receptor nerves relay impulses via the spinal cord back to the brain. The brain then relays messages back to the area involved. The effects may include the relaxation of voluntary muscles, the sedation of nerve sensors and improved blood circulation to the area. The receptor nerve endings affected by touch travel more quickly than those involved in chronic pain and can reduce the brain’s perception of the amount of pain from the affected area. Chemicals known as endorphins are also released from the brain and act as the body’s natural painkillers. These help to counter the sensation of chronic pain and give a feeling of well-being and relaxation.
There are many different types of massage that have been developed; some approaches focus on the physical effects that the massage techniques have on the body, whilst others focus attention on the flow of ‘energy’ within the body. All types of massage can have an effect on the skin, muscles, blood vessels, lymph, nerves and some of the internal organs.