Thursday, April 2, 2009



The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) …”innervates smooth muscle, cardiac muscle, and glands, and it controls the circulation of blood, activity of the gastrointestinal tract, body temperature, respiration rate, and many other functions”. Salvo (2007). Our ANS can be divided into two parts – Sympathetic Nervous System and Parasympathetic Nervous System.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) serves all parts of the body. It is generally associated with the fight/flight response activating our muscularskeletal system to fight and run away from a threat. Our eyes become aware, heartbeat speeds up, adrenalin secreets, abdomen shuts down and muscles involve. Faster massage techniques such as tapotement and vibrating can speed up the SNS.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is confined to the head and trunk and restores it to the original state it was in prior to sympathetic stimulation. Basically it does the opposite of SNS and rests our digestive system, decreases anxiety and stress hormones which help us to relax and stay calm. By applying a slower stroke like effleurage it can reduce our PNS.

Therefore, massage plays an important part by either releasing stimulation triggers of histamine which causes blood to flow to the area or it can have a soothing effect which reduces stress on our nervous system. Massage is also believed to reduce anxiety, decrease depression and relieve muscle tension.


The effects of massage strokes can vary depending on the movement – tension or torsion (i.e. stretching or twisting) and compression (light to moderate or deep pressure which helps fluids release into our veins which then travel back to the heart for elimination). These can be broken down to Mechanical - meaning it has a physical effect which breaks down adhesions and moves fluids, and Reflexive - a reflex action which works thru the nervous system affecting your internal, hormone and chemical balance. Below are the various strokes you can apply to your massage:

By touching or holding your client can be an introduction at the beginning of the massage to establish contact in a non-threatening way and at the end of the massage to ease off pressure and come to a stop. It can also be used through the massage if you need some processing time.

Effleurage is a continuous, long stroke towards the heart to help increase circulation. It can also be used initially to spread oil. The most common way is the same direction as muscle fibre which stretches the tissues out and flushes out lactic acid depending on the pressure, this is called Longitudinal. It can also be used as a Transverse (90º to Longitudinal) where it is good at breaking apart fascia adhesions. A light to moderate pressure has a relaxing effect and also flushes out the lymphatic. Deep affects the blood flow and helps blood move in and out of arteries.

Strokes involved with Petrissage are cross-overs, kneading and wringing. They can help reduce soreness or stiffness by stimulating the circulation of blood and lymph. Lifting tissues and twisting creates lengthening in tissues. It also helps to squeeze out blood and lymph fluid and creates fresh lymph and blood into the area. It is very intense on your body so should not be used on a regular basis.

When compressing belly of muscle you are stretching the muscle. A fast compression will stimulate muscle and increase the tension and a slower compression has a more relaxing effect.

Is highly stimulating due to its quick staccato movement and mostly affects your reflexes and puts the body back into Sympathetic mode. Tapotement can be hacking, cupping and pounding. Area to avoid is the kidneys.

Vibration is applied with full hands or your fingertips which stimulates circulation. If pressure is applied it can be soothing.


Blood Flow – increases blood circulation which aids in the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to cells and tissues.

Lymph Flow – the movement of adjacent tissues is important as it transports lymph through the lymphatics which cause it to flow more rapidly thus aid in returning leaked tissue fluids back to the heart.

Muscle Tension – massage enhances blood circulation, increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles which reduces muscle fatigue and soreness. It also relieves muscle tightness and stiffness. By increasing the muscle length it improves flexibility and range of motion.

Connective Tissue – connective tissue provides nutrition and oxygen to itself and nearby tissues i.e. skin and muscle. It can defend the body against disease or support the framework. Under stress they can develop fascia, adhesion and keloid/scar formations. By applying deep massage it can reduce keloid formation, decrease scar and adhesion formation. It can also release fascial restrictions.

Sleep Patterns – Sleep disorder can impair our ability to heal. By massaging, ideally at night, it can enhance a deeper sleep and leave you feeling more rested after waking.

Digestion – massage helps to increase contractions that mix and propel materials in the gastrointestinal tract which helps move the contents of our bowel for elimination. Thus aids constipation, relieves colic and intestinal gas and stimulate digestion.

Blood Pressure – is decreased by the blood vessel dilation.

Pain – massage stimulates endorphins which are pain-relieving substances.

Mood – can help to improve your mood by giving you renewed energy and decreasing anger from dopamine and serotonin release.

Concentration – your mental alertness is increased by relaxing the body and mind and removing stress from increased blood flow due to increased oxygen levels to the brain.

Satiety – touch promotes acceptance which can satisfy the emotional needs of the client.

Bonding – a reciprocal relationship between the client and therapist which is strengthened with touch which is released by the oxytocin hormone.

Salvo, S. (2007). Massage Therapy Principles & Practice (3rd ed.). Missouri: Saunders Elsevier

Class Notes

1 comment:

  1. Like you comments on effects of effleurage stokes being transverse and longitudinal and what they do to the tissue