Although massage and other complementary ther-apies affect many systems, the organ system or struc-ture that is physically handled by the therapist is the integumentary system. Therapists use their sense of touch to assess their clients’ temperature, texture, and tension of soft tissue. The client perceives the manipulation by the therapist through the skin and complex mechanical, physiologic, and psychological responses are produced in the deeper structures. A thorough knowledge of structure and function will help therapists treat clients more effectively. For ex-ample, some areas of the skin are more sensitive to touch than others and less pressure is sufficient. The type of technique used and the rate, vigor, and rhythm determine the effect on the client. Because client satisfaction largely relies on the sensations evoked, knowledge of how the brain perceives sensa-tion gains importance. Heat and cold may be used for therapy and questions, such as what effect they have on the body, arise.
Manipulation of the skin often causes visible changes in color or color changes may be already present. An understanding of why this happens may be beneficial to the therapist. If clients with allergies inadvertently contact certain chemicals in the clinic, edema, itching, and redness may be produced. Knowledge of why and how this happens can help the therapist avoid these situations. In aromatherapy, essential oils are used on the skin and an under-standing is needed of what can and cannot be ab-sorbed through the skin. To understand the clinical conditions that produce skin problems and take suit-able precautions, the therapist needs to know the structure of normal skin.
The integumentary (inte, whole gument, body covering) system consists of skin, together with ac-cessory structures, such as glands, hair, nails, muscle, and nerves. Skin is made up of different types of tis-sue that perform specific functions and is considered an organ. The skin is the heaviest organ and has the largest surface area.