Medical Massage and How Important it is to Your Health and Wellbeing
by Ani Papazyan, Therapeutic Effects Plus, Tarzana, CA
It was interesting for me to see that in the US massage was mostly considered a luxury. Coming from the former Soviet Union, massage is a part of medical practice. You couldn’t finish medical school unless you learned massage. Every doctors office had a massage therapist. It didn’t matter if you had a headache, back pain, just came out of surgery or had an internal organ disorder. Every client received massages as part of their health and wellness program. Our teachers where all practicing medical doctors.
Medical massage therapists approach the body very differently than traditional massage therapists. We have all heard the benefits of massage: it increases circulation, range of motion, improves lymph drainage, helps with pain, etc. These are all the benefits of massage on the local mechanism. As I mentioned earlier, medical massage is a part of medicine, and has greater benefits than just affecting the body on a local mechanism. It affects the nervous system (sympathetic & parasympathetic), internal organ functions, body’s reflexes, etc.
Medical massage therapists have to know the embryological wisdom of the body. This knowledge looks at which muscles, tissues or internal organs are innervated by which segments of the spinal cord during the development of the human embryo. For example: Superficial layers of the lower back and latissimus dorsi muscles report to the C7 segment of the spinal cord which is located on the neck.
Let me explain further. If a client is complaining of pain in the lower back or has trigger point on the latissimus dorsi muscle, then the medical massage therapist, after performing a series of diagnostic evaluations, would start the treatment by working on the C6-T1 area (located on the lower part of the neck). And only after this would the practitioner work on the actual muscles of complaint.
Since the late 1800s and early 1900s, doctors Head, Dalicho & Glezer noticed their patients that had internal organ disorders also had changes in different areas of the skin. Doctor Head created a map that showed the areas of the skin that correlated with specific internal organ. For example: anterior deltoid of the right shoulder is the liver point, and the latissimus dorsi muscle on the right side is stomach & pancreas.
Funny story: one day I was massaging a client and she mentioned that when she was a child and had any tummy issues, her mother would pinch her in the back of the knee. In the neuromuscular palpation test we do, the popliteus muscle, which is located on the back of the knee, is related to digestive issues.
With the knowledge of correct massage techniques and their effects on the nervous system, medical massage therapists are able to affect the activity of sympathetic (fight-or-flight) & parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system and to some degree restore its balance. The same technique performed on different parts of the same muscle will relax or stimulate that muscle and the specific segment of the nervous system.
Remember massage is not just for relaxation. It’s a beneficial tool to keep your body healthy and functioning at its optimum capacity, and to aid in the recovery of different ailments. So now, go out and enjoy your massage. Your health depends on it!
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