By William F. Burton Jr., LMT, CMCE Originally published in Massage Today, March, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 03
Let’s play a quick word association game. Here goes: equilibrium, stability, balance, regulate, internal, conditions. And the word we’re looking for is: Homeostasis. Simply defined, homeostasis is the monitoring and maintaining of the body’s internal environment. This process aids the body in maintaining a balanced and healthy state.
In massage school, we learn the anatomy and physiology of each organ system separately, but as an organism, it is the functions of these systems working as one unit that keeps the body in a stable, balanced and healthy state. The main job of maintaining this equilibrium belongs to the Autonomic Nervous System. The balancing of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is critical in keeping the body in homeostasis; you know …”Fight or Flight.”
Homeostasis is that virtual sanctuary where the body can hit the proverbial “reset” button. Our systems are always on alert status against negative outside influences keeping the body in a constant state of adjusting, readjusting, compensating and re-balancing. Along with our posture and the body’s soft tissue, the body’s temperature, pH and blood can all be affected by this negative bombardment. Our body, this wonderful machine, sometimes without warning, is thrust into a major conflict against these negative effects in order to bring the body back to homeostasis. One such negative force is stress and its cumulative effects. Stress can negatively affect our ability to combat and adjust to this challenge resulting in dysfunction, disease and even death. Another example of how homeostasis is negatively affected is by the accumulation of metabolic waste in the body. This will leave the body vulnerable to the effects of aging; slowing down the body’s metabolic process, lymphatic and blood flow is stagnated leaving the body in a diseased state. But in the horizon we see the cavalry approaching to save the day aiding the body’s battle.
The effects of stress are cumulative, but so are the effects of massage therapy through our applied strokes and/or techniques. Adding a defined intention and treatment plan along with the benefits of vacutherapies, we can encourage the body to “center itself” by creating positive effects on the circulatory, lymphatic, nervous and endocrine systems leaving the body in a better position to maintain homeostasis.
During a massage session, our strokes act to stimulate the body’s natural healer: blood. Like other stimulating massage strokes such as petrissage, vibration, and/or rriction, the “lifting” action of the vacutherapies activates the sympathetic nervous system faster and with longer lasting results in the form of direct blood flow to dysfunctional area. The techniques of vacutherapies can also mimic the gliding effect of our effleurage massage stroke. Used rhythmically, this technique activates the parasympathetic nervous system which works to dominate the sympathetic system resulting in the dilation of blood vessels and the increase of chemical release and absorption.
Mechanically, vacutherapies work by lifting the soft tissue vertically while moving transversely, providing the stimulation and practically painless agitation to the structures being worked on: blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerve pathways, fascia and soft tissue. This, in turn, can aid the body in relieving dysfunction, injury, as well as the pain, etc. Including the techniques of vacutherapy as an adjunct to your massage session will result in: decrease in pain messages via nervous system, increase Serotonin, Dopamine levels, you know, the”feel good” hormones released by endocrine system. Fresh, oxygenated blood and increased lymph flow exchanged in the capillaries accelerating the removal of any and all metabolic by-products, muscle tissues are elongated, pliable and suppler, which is the key to a healthier musculoskeletal and fascial system resulting in the “unsticking” of adhesions and releasing of trigger points.
Inflammation is drawn out as hydration is drawn in. With the stimulation of blood flow and the activation of the PNS, peristalsis is increased. Synovial fluid is increased in the joints allowing for more free joint movement. There are many other benefits such as: resetting muscle spindles, changing the viscosity of ground substance, and “erase” history.
Remember, the body is a machine, and like a machine has to be maintained every day in order for optimal performance. Nothing happens to the body’s internal environment without causing an adaptive or compensatory change either directly or indirectly resulting in an unbalanced homeostasis.