Source: Massage Mag
May 6, 2013
April 3, 2013
Why Does Touch Feel Good?
A Question of Basic Science
By Diana L. Thompson
Humans and other animals use touch to communicate, explore their environment, heal, learn, sense danger, and more. On a molecular level, it is the least understood of all the senses. While there are several types of touch-sensor neurons, it is not known how these neurons respond to force.1 Our ability to sense gentle touch is known to develop early and remain ever-present in our lives, yet, until now, scientists have not known exactly how humans and other organisms perceive such sensations.2
For the past 100 years, researchers have attempted to differentiate between neurons that sense light touch and those triggered by noxious stimuli or pain. Light touch is the sense that allows musicians to find the right notes on an instrument and practitioners to differentiate between an adhesion and healthy tissue. Applying just the right touch allows us to grasp a pen to write, cradle a teacup to drink, and rub a sore scalene muscle without causing more pain or impinging a spinal nerve.
Recently, scientists have discovered answers to questions such as: Why does the same touch cause one person to cringe and pull away and another to breathe deeply and relax? (Just like our furry friends, the hair on our skin makes our skin a social organ, processing social touch.3) Why do some people have more tactile acuity than others? (Smaller hands have a keener sense of touch because sensory neurons are closer together.4) Is direct skin-to-skin contact more effective than mechanized stroking? (Yes! The neural response to human touch is greater than similar touch with an inanimate object.5) How is it that practitioners can recall tactile information, for example a client’s physical nuances, as soon as we lay our hands on her? (Quantitative tactile memory exists in the frontal lobes and can be controlled consciously.6)
Identifying the various sensory neurons and their response to force may help us understand how and when to touch others. We connect with our own sensory neurons skillfully and without thought. What might we do differently to connect with our clients’ various neurons more specifically and effectively?
Basic Science vs. Applied Research
Scientific research can be broken down into two general categories of investigation: basic science and applied research. In the realm of basic science, also referred to as mechanistic research, studies attempt to uncover how something works. Applied research simply asks, “Does this work?” and poses questions regarding safety and effectiveness as they relate to specific populations.
The studies that directly impact massage and bodywork practitioners address the practical application of hands-on techniques or related methods of treatment for specific populations of people. For example, a study comparing two types of massage therapy for chronic low-back pain—full-body relaxation massage versus specific treatment techniques—has been referenced in a few Somatic Research columns.7 The study results are intriguing: both types of massage were equally effective in reducing the symptoms of chronic back pain. This is an example of applied research, and the implications to clinical practice are palpable. It also leaves us with a question best answered by basic science.
Basic science, or mechanistic research, explains the how and why of things. In the realm of somatic therapies, these studies explain the physiological mechanisms underlying touch—what is happening underneath the skin when we touch the body in various ways. In the example above, the question on most of our minds after reading the results was, “Why does gentle, nonspecific massage have similar positive effects to deep, specific therapeutic massage when they feel so different?” Will understanding the effects of gentle touch help us identify strategies to mediate the underlying dysfunction, and design effective and safe treatments specific to our clients’ needs?
Implications of Basic Science
The ultimate goal of data from the lab is to eventually inform clinical decision making. There are few good examples in massage research. A series of studies have shown that abdominal pumping, one beat per minute for four minutes, can increase free white blood cells from a normal range of 50–150 cells up to 800.8 As a result, we can claim that massage improves immune function.
Still, the implications of basic-science research are not as tangible as in applied research. As yet, there is no definitive indicator of the mechanism behind massage therapy, and therefore no confirmation of our theories on how therapeutic touch works. As a result, we continue to use physiological markers to measure, rather than explain, the general benefits of massage. Cardiovascular markers such as blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability show the effects of massage on anxiety, pain, and stress. Salivary cortisol levels may also demonstrate the benefits of massage on anxiety, pain, and stress, though whether or not massage plays a causative role in reducing cortisol is currently in question.9
Mechanisms for Gentle Touch
In 2009, Merkel cells were confirmed as key in sensing light touch.10 Merkel cells are necessary for our hands to feel texture and shape, and to sense shifts as tissue softens and congestion eases. Without the ability to sense light touch, skilled hands-on therapy would not be possible.
While studying the sense of touch, Duke University scientists pinpointed specific neurons that appear to regulate perception. The sensory neurons are characterized by thin spikes, and based on their volume, these protrusions determine the cell’s sensitivity to force. This study discovered that the volume of filopodia—the spikes on class III neurons—influences the degree of sensitivity and that the filopodia can form, grow, or disappear in a matter of minutes.11
Duke professor W. Daniel Tracy says, “By learning more about touch sensing, we can begin to explore why these neurons become so responsive to stimuli and how it is that these signals become so painful. We might—in the long run—help people with chronic pain issues in new ways by looking at underlying molecular mechanisms.”
In a similar study at University of California at San Francisco, a world leader in brain research, scientists also identified the subset of nerve cells responsible for communicating gentle touch in fruit fly larvae. NOMPC, a particular protein found abundantly at the filopodia of class III neurons, was found to be the key to gentle-touch sensitivity in the flies.12
Identifying a neuron cell and its protein trigger in flies still leaves us with unanswered questions, such as what the analogous mechanism is in humans that confers gentle touch, or how NOMPC identifies touch or distinguishes between mechanical touch and human contact. But it helps researchers refine their strategies for studying gentle touch in humans. Most importantly, it prompts touch therapists to direct investigators to ask questions that can inform our practice. I continue to wonder how gentle, nonspecific touch can have similar effects on chronic pain as does deep touch targeted to the painful areas.
Clinical Studies on Gentle Touch
Let’s look at some of the applied research studies on gentle touch and see what the results tell us.
In a study at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a team of physical therapists worked with patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) to reduce grip force. Excessive gripping is common in those with MS and results in fatigue and decreased performance. Gentle touch applied to the affected hand was shown to significantly reduce the grip force required and regain control and coordination.13
In a study on preterm infants, the effects of two types of touch were analyzed in a neonatal intensive care unit in Iran: gentle human touch (GHT) and Yakson. With GHT, one hand is placed on the infant’s head and one on the infant’s abdomen. Yakson is a Korean technique using gentle touching and slow hand movement without pressure. Both were found to be equally beneficial in increasing sleep states and reducing fussy, awake states.14
And, in the above-referenced study comparing two types of massage therapy for chronic low-back pain, there was no clinically meaningful difference between the two types of massage in terms of relieving disability or symptoms.
Gentle touch has profound effects on specific classes of neurons, and it may be a valid tool for massage therapists and bodyworkers, in addition to, or in lieu of, deep-pressure techniques. In order to target class III sensory neurons, gentle touch must be employed, as they are designed specifically for differentiating subtle information.
Tags: affordable massage, At Voorhees Town Center, benefits of massage, healing arts, Human Interest, Massage, massage schools new jersey, massage schools Philadelphia, massage therapist, massage therapist new jersey, massage therapy, Rizzieri School for the Healing Arts, sense of touch, touch, Voorhees Town Center, why does touch feel good —
March 6, 2013
1. Remember you are more than a body. Be open to receiving in a way that is optimum benefit to you.
2. As much as you are comfortable with it, let your massage therapist know the sources of stress in your life and body. He or she can can then make emphases that will provide the best for you.
3. Most of us are so focused on doing, giving our energy to home and work tasks, that we have lost the healthy ratio of giving to receiving. Feel free to just let go and receive deeply.
4. Notice new experiences. You are a wonder. Feel how much you learn about your structure, balance, and energy. The manipulative effects of massage will last a while. The learning from massage will last forever.
5. Get out of your head. Enjoy the balance that comes from high-quality attention to the vastness of life below your mind.
Source: Massage Magazine
March 4, 2013
Geriatric massage could grow as a specialty as the US Population ages. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million people aged 65 years or older – more than twice that of the year 2000, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services Administration on Aging.
New research indicates six-weekly 60-minute massage therapy sessions resulted in immediate and long-term improvements in postural stability and blood pressure among older adults, compared to subjects who engaged in relaxation rather than massage.
“Falls in older adults represent a primary cause of decreased mobility and independence, increased morbidity and accidental death,” the researchers noted.
This project assessed the effects of six weeks of massage on balance, nervous system and cardiovascular measures in older adults, according to an abstract published on www.pubmed.gov.
Thirty-five volunteers aged 62 and older were randomly assigned to relaxation or massage groups.
The massage group showed significant differences relative to the relaxation group in cardiovascular function after the week-six session, with decreased blood pressure and increased stability over time with immediate post-massage to 60 minutes post-massage. Long-term differences between the groups were detected at week seven.
Source: Massage Magazine
August 29, 2012
Are you reading this—or doing anything else besides sleeping—in the middle of the night? If so, you have plenty of company out there. One in 10 Americans suffer from chronic insomnia, and chances are good that most of them, including you, have already read plenty of advice about how to deal with the problem. You know to lay off the caffeine and alcohol before bed. You reserve your (dark, cool) bedroom for sleep and sex. You avoid scary movies and news shows in the evening. You schedule your exercise at least four hours before bedtime. You’ve tried everything from lavender sachets to chamomile tea to prescription sleeping pills. So why are you still struggling to get the rest you need? It may be that you need to approach the problem in a whole new way. Here’s how two ancient medical traditions can help you identify the underlying source of your insomnia and address it in a more holistic manner.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)
KIDNEY YIN DEFICIENCY In TCM, “the kidneys are associated with survival, and they represent our life’s purpose,” Lewis explains. “If we are not living in alignment with our own true purpose, we can’t get grounded and will never find rest.” When you’re not rooted in kidney yin (the soothing watery force that offsets the heart’s fire), you feel fearful or anxious and may lie awake worrying.
INADEQUATE NOURISHMENT FOR THE HEART “The blood carries messages to the heart,” Lewis says. “If you’re living in an imbalanced way in which your spirit is not honored and nourished, there can be restlessness and incessant chatter in your mind that keeps you awake at night.”
LIVER CHI STAGNATION This refers to both the actual organ and the metaphorical one, which helps us process and assimilate all that comes our way. “The liver governs our ability to accept life,” Lewis explains. “If we are resisting what is, we’re frustrated and angry.” If you’re up at night replaying a fight with your husband or ruminating about office conflicts, liver chi stagnation might be your problem. Regardless of the source of your insomnia, a heart-soothing nighttime routine is essential. Lewis recommends this routine:
August 6, 2012
We were recently asked, “what different types of massage are there? What are the most popular?”
Here are a few of the most popular:
June 11, 2012
Exercise makes muscles sore, but research suggests that massage can help ease that pain, while also helping muscles heal faster. After research subjects performed a session of difficult exercise, they received Swedish massage on only one leg. Researches biopsied muscles in each leg and found that massage activated genes that decrease inflammation and promote energy gerneration within cells, resulting in muscles that hurt less and grow quicker.
The study was published in February in Science Translational Medicine. So, the next time you have a tough bout of exercise, conduct your own clinical trial and get a massage!
March 27, 2012
Experts have reviewed the study Science Translational Medicine for WebMD and say it is one of the first to document how human muscle cells respond to massage, a popular therapy that has struggled to gain respect as serious medicine. It echoes a 2008 study in rabbits, which found that rubbed muscle tissue recovered more strength after exercise than muscle tissue that was simply rested, with less swelling and inflammation.
As encouraging as these findings are, however, there’s still a lot the study isn’t able to say. Priscilla Clarkson, PhD, who studies post-exercise muscle soreness, cautions that the study didn’t look at whether massage actually improved pain.
“If a massage gives you temporary respite from the pain, by all means, try it. However, these molecular changes may have no effect – or may need to be elicited many times to have a lasting effect.” Clarkson, who is distinguished professor of kinesiology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
What’s also not known is whether massage may still be helpful if a person gets a rubdown hours or days after a hard workout instead of just mites. Still scientists who say they were once wary that massage had any real benefits, beyond relaxation, say they are starting to come around.
“I went into all this truly skeptical”, says Mark H. Rapaport MD, chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral services at Emory University in Atlanta. “I’ve changed. I think there is something there. We saw a profound biological changes associated with it.” says Rapaport, referring to a 2010 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, which found that Swedish Massage boosted immune function and decreased stress hormones compared by a placebo.”
“There’s a real consistency between their results, and our results,” Rapaport says, “I was amazed at how positive their results were based on a really brief intervention.”
What are your thoughts on massage as pain management?
February 28, 2012
With a history of 2000 to 3000 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has formed a unique system to diagnose and cure illness. The TCM approach is fundamentally different from that of Western medicine. In TCM, the understanding of the human body is based on the holistic understanding of the universe as described in Daoism.
The clinical diagnosis and treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine are mainly based on the yin-yang and five elements theories. These theories apply the phenomena and laws of nature to the study of the physiological activities and pathological changes of the human body and its interrelationships. The typical therapies include acupuncture, herbal medicine, and qigong exercises.
With acupuncture, treatment is accomplished by stimulating certain areas of the external body. Herbal medicine acts on zang-fu organs internally while qigong tries to restore the orderly information flow inside the network through the regulation of Qi.
These therapies appear very different in approach yet they all share the same underlying sets of assumptions and insights in the nature of the human body and its place in the universe. Some scientists describe the treatment of disease through herbal medicine, acupuncture, and qigong as an “information therapy”.