Full Body Medical Stress Management Massage
The reputation of massage therapy as a medical therapeutic tool has taken a strong stance in the modern healthcare arsenal. But for some reason, the massage therapeutic community and other health care practitioners underestimate the therapeutic power and importance of full body stress management massage. Nowadays, modern society is suffering significantly from the negative effects of stress. Stress-related illnesses include heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, clinical depression, and more.
In the recent years, many statistical and survey data indicate that severe side effects of stress are gradually debilitating more and more people. It should be noted that the U.S. economy is losing $300 billion dollars annually in costs arising from stress-related illnesses..
With such a need for ways to address these stress-related pathologies, the stress management massage therapist should be a well-respected professional. But in our community, massage therapists who choose to perform only full body stress management massage tend to be looked upon as second rate or as having only basic skills compared to those therapists trained in modalities such as orthopedic massage therapy, who are capable of relieving lower back or neck and upper back pain.
Not that I am a proponent of crippled education – I believe massage therapists ought to be educated in vast variety of applicable disciplines. It’s just that underestimating and downplaying the value of stress management massage is erroneous.
It is important for us to remember that the genesis of many back and limb disorders is stress-related. For example, most of us carry stress in the muscular structures of the upper back and neck, lower back, or abdominals. The increased tonus of the muscles can produce not only local aches and pains, but also general biomechanical imbalances. Biomechanical imbalances are always expressed in compensatory movement, which in many cases causes the development of intervertebral disc herniation, initiation and acceleration of arthritic condition, or muscular pathology, etc. Thus, weekly or bi-weekly full body stress management massage not only helps eliminating the side effects of stress such as hypertension, anxiety, etc., but also is a great preventive medicine effort in avoiding back and limb disorders. The increased tonus of the muscles can produce not only local aches and pains, but also general biomechanical imbalances. Biomechanical imbalances are always expressed in compensatory movement, which in many cases causes the development of intervertebral disc herniation, initiation and acceleration of arthritic condition, or muscular pathology, etc. Thus, weekly or bi-weekly full body stress management massage not only helps eliminate the side effects of stress, but is also a great preventive medicine effort in avoiding back and limb disorders.
In order to have a profound understanding of the power of full-body stress management massage, it is important to know and understand the mechanism of the negative side effects of stress on the human body. Imagine being confronted by a dog ready to attack you. The human body response to such a shocking stress is the “fight or flight” phenomenon, expressed by a sharp increase in respiratory/breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone production. The above-mentioned processes are results of over-activity of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system.
The balance of the activities between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is the mark of very good health. Conversely, imbalance of activities of these nervous systems is equal to illnesses. In our stressful daily life routine, stress-causing factors (not only those such as in the dog attack example, but also small things like the news headlines of tragedies and disasters) little by little increasingly impinge on our health, resulting in high blood pressure: hundreds of millions of Americans suffer from high blood pressure, clinical depression, anxiety, diabetes, heart attacks. Full body stress management massage is the most powerful method in healthcare concerning the capability to balance the activities of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
Arteries carry a sufficient quantity of smooth muscles and nerve supply to contract as well as dilate. As I stated before, stress factors cause elevated activities of the sympathetic nervous system, which result in vasoconstriction. Constricted vessels cause an increase in blood pressure and significant amplification of peripheral vascular resistance, which is the main opposition to cardiac work. This means the heart must not only perform its non-stop duty of pumping blood to all body systems, but it must also work extra hard to overcome the added peripheral vascular resistance.
With time, this overload of cardiac work leads to heart attack and other heart diseases related to exhaustion of the cardiac muscle/connective tissue. Also, elevated levels of cardiac work demand a greater amount of arterial blood supply, which is unavailable in the presence of vasoconstriction. Constant vasoconstriction and high blood pressure accelerates the development of arteriosclerosis. In turn, arteriosclerosis can be the main cause for heart diseases, kidney diseases, and strokes. Further, in this book I will explain in details how full-body massage depresses sympathetic nervous activities causing vasodilation, reduction of blood pressure, and decrease in cardiac work.
Stress and clinical depression
An additional stress related phenomenon that supports all negative reactions of our body to stress is an increased production of stress hormones. Constantly being overstressed, the central nervous system is excited sometimes to a point when it cannot take anymore. At this point, as an act of defense, the centers cause a reduction of the amount and activities of serotonin within the brain. One of the twelve neurotransmitters, serotonin is largely responsible for our waking state. Reduction of the quantities and activities of serotonin in the brain is clinically expressed as depression.
Full body stress management massage causes multiple positive changes in the functions of organs and systems, cutting back stress hormone production and increasing the production of endorphins. With time, this will allow the serotonin activities to be restored and the depressed condition will improve. It is very important to understand that massage therapy tremendously helps to prevent the development of clinical depression. From the very first treatment, the positive changes occurring in the functions of organs and systems include reduction of the factors that constantly bombard/excite the central nervous system.
Stress and diabetes type 2
As you understood stress significantly increases cardio work. Increased cardio work demands increase in stress hormone production. The increased production of stress hormones is causing significant elevation of receptor resistance to insulin, resulting in the prolonged increased glucose level in blood i.e. diabetes. Full body stress management massage performed weakly, is depressing production of stress hormones, which in turn will allow to these special receptors to restore the normal reaction to insulin.
Relaxation versus stress management
Stress management means more than simple relaxation. In my opinion, a sense or feeling of relaxation is only one of the expressions of stress management. For example, an overstressed person (who under pre-session hemodynamic studies will demonstrate higher blood pressure, faster heart rate, increased peripheral vascular resistance & left cardiac work), can sit in a dark room with a peaceful, soothing, ambience and soft relaxing music for one hour, after which, he/she will report a nice relaxed feeling. But post-session hemodynamic study will show the effects of this relaxation session to be only a small reduction of peripheral vascular resistance, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. On the other hand, stress management massage causes measurably significant positive changes in functions of organs and systems (as I mentioned previously) and the client will experience and report the relaxation sensation as well.
Physiological effect of massage on the human body
Two factors define the physiological effect of massage on humans.
1. Local, mechanical factor – expressed by mechanical acceleration of venous blood drainage, some degree of lymph drainage acceleration, passive exercise for soft tissues, and breaking down deposits of calcium in soft tissue and stimulation of its removal from the body.
2. Reflex factor – the main power of massage therapy is its reflexive therapy. By mobilizing skin, connective and muscular tissue, we deform the proprioreceptors, which in turn creates action potentials (electrical activities) that through neurological pathways reaching motor and vasomotor centers. As a reflex (involuntary reaction of organs and systems to original stimuli) the body responds by expressing all positive changes that I mentioned earlier. In order to reach these results we must perform all sets of therapy in the inhibitory regime. (Please see the chapter on inhibitory regime above)
As a matter of fact, by applying full body medical massage therapy techniques; we are breaking the vicious cycle that leads to the developments of illnesses related to stress.
The protocol of full-body stress management massage was initially proposed by Russian physician, Prof. Anatoli Sherbak. In the early 60s, this method was perfected in former city of Leningrad Lesgafte School of Physical Rehabilitation. Initially, scientists tried to develop a protocol that would be most effective for the rehabilitation of overstrained Olympian athletes. What they found out was that the ultimate set of technical approaches, the same that I propose, could be extremely effective for stress management. In 1964, a group of scientists finally proposed an optimal protocol for stress management. 140 professional athletes participated in this study. The research scientists took and analyzed data from hemodynamics studies, which include reflections of left cardiac work, degree of vasoconstriction, electroencelography, EMG (electromyography studies), hematocrit, etc. It is likely that many of the techniques I will propose, many of you are already using today in addition to other wonderful techniques. I highly recommend adopting these protocols of techniques and steps sequence as they have been selected through research as the most effective for stress management.