Bodyworkers and the Nervous System
The beneficial effects of bodywork on the nervous system is undisputed, but are too complex and difficult to explain in terms of anatomy and physiology, with many aspects still a mystery. Also, the effects are hard to quantify because they seem to vary from per-son to person. The effects of massage techniques on the nervous system have been described in detail.
Manipulative techniques produce changes in function in a variety of ways. An array of stimuli, such as cutaneous receptors, smell, sight, and sound, are used by bodyworkers to affect the nervous system. Changes throughout the nervous system could be reflex effects, such as relaxation of muscle, vasodilatation, and changes in blood flow; psychological effects, such as those that occur in the mind, emotions, or behavior; and psychoneuroimmunologic effects, such as those produced by alteration in hormone levels and immune functions even as the mind is affected.
Research indicates that the relaxation produced, with the lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and res-piratory rate, is primarily a result of stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system.5 Interestingly, research on the effect of aromatherapy has shown characteristic changes in recordings of brain wave patterns on using essential oils believed to be stimu-latory or relaxing. For example, wave patterns dimin-ished (indicating relaxation) on using the relaxing oil marjoram and increased (indicating stimulation) on using oils such as lemon. There is evidence that mas-sage can reduce anxiety and depression in children with behavioral problems and others. Massage is certainly an effective way of reducing stress levels.5 Sleep patterns have also been shown to be affected by massage.
Therapeutic manipulation seems to reduce pain by interrupting the pain-spasm-pain cycle.5It reduces pressure on nerves by initiating a relaxation of local muscles, increasing blood flow, and removal of chemicals that stimulate pain receptors. These techniques have been shown to result in the release of endorphins, the natural painkillers. By stimulating large, myeli-nated touch and pressure nerve fibers, such tech- niques result in the inhibition of impulses through the pain pathway (gate control theory). Much of the ef-fects of massage are also a result of stimulation of pro-prioceptors (muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, and joint receptors). Careful stimulation of these re-ceptors can reflexively cause relaxation or contraction of stimulated muscles, antagonistic muscles, and even the muscles of the opposite side. In those with paralysis, such reflexes may help alter tone of the paralyzed muscles. How-ever, care should be taken when massaging such clients to prevent stimulation of the mass reflex that is accompanied by many autonomic responses. Release of trigger points also helps interrupt thepain-spasm-pain cycle. In addition, the rapport of the bodyworker with the client and the relaxing colors, aroma, and music also play an important part.
Given the array of stimuli that bodyworkers seem to use to produce the desired effect on the client, it is important for them to consider the sensitivity of the client to various forms of stimuli.