Massage and The Body
By: Kayla Perkins
“Touch is a freaky thing when you’re not use to it. It makes you feel all kinds of things” (Shusterman). Touch is so crucial to everyday living, without it, functioning on a socially acceptable level difficult for those who lack physical stimulation. With the few senses that the body has, touch is this most important. We can live without seeing the world, and smelling freshly ground coffee, but without the ability to touch, we are constantly in harm’s way. “Touch is the way we communicate, we are programmed to physically connect with one another in order to receive a certain stimulus that allows us to thrive” (Sabol). Through touch, we receive neuroendocrine chemicals that assist the body in maintaining homeostasis(which is basically the body in complete balance with itself). Without touch, our endocrine system does not function properly, causing miscommunication with our nervous system, creating imbalance.
Skin is the outside layer of our body, which consists of hair, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, nails, and breasts (Fritz). It is our first line of defense against infection, and it protects our internal body organs from harm. Though at times, skin seems like it is superficial. The largest organ of the body actually has two main layers, along with several sublayers underneath them. The epidermis is the outermost layer, and the dermis lies just beneath it. Each layer protects the body in a unique way, and some layers help other body systems by releasing certain hormones that lay in the adipose tissue(which is a layer of fat; everyone has it), which is attached to the bottom layer is the dermis. Oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone, is released, creating a balance in the body’s endocrine system. Without that release, homeostasis could not be achieved (Fritz).
The hypothalamus maintains homeostasis. The endocrine system may seem small, but it is one of the most important body systems as it regulates chemical levels in the body. Without our endocrine system, life would be one great big perpetual mood swing. In the human body, adipose tissue contains certain cells that are targeted by other cells to release specific hormones when we are touched. Without touch we would be lacking oxytocin, which is important in maintaining a good feeling, an overall sense of happiness. The only way to have that mechanical release is to have direct communication through skin to skin contact. There are several types of touch that are completely understood by neural pathways that are mainly found in the skin.
Though touch can make you excessively happy due to oxytocin, lack of touch can cause so many unfortunate issues within the entire body. Without touch and the necessary chemicals that follow along with it, our mind starts to compensate, allowing us to “self-medicate” in order to stimulate the same sensation (Fritz). The brain works in a complicated way, essentially running off of the equivalent to a “red light” cycle, when reading and releasing chemicals based on sensations we receive through certain actions. “Without the chemicals associated with physical stimulation, many people partake in overeating, smoking, alcohol, substance abuse, gambling, and so many other ways to compensate. In some cases, people develop schizotypal disorder, which is when you cannot stand to be touched, because your body has missed that chemical release for so long it does not want to produce it”(Sabol).
When people go so far as to uncontrollably develop social disorders because there is no physical communication, it is difficult to figure out how to help someone to receive the stimulation that is so desperately needed to thrive. Failure to thrive is a disorder that often times leads to the body to physically shut down, and in children, it can often lead to death. We need touch to survive.
Massage can benefit people who lack the sensory stimulation needed to survive. Being a Massage Therapist, we are touching the body and affecting the chemicals that need to be released to function at a proper rate. We are giving people the care that they need: acceptance and compassion through touch, with skin to skin communication. Massage can benefit the body based on the relaxation that comes through basic human touch. It is common knowledge that massage stimulates the body and relaxes the mind while allowing you to feel at peace. Massage stimulates the same chemical release that can be found in “self medication” when there is no touch in their lives. It helps to keep the body balanced. our integumentary system is our first line of defense, it is our ultimate protection against all things. Our skin allows us to communication through sensations, and chemicals are then released from the endocrine system. The endocrine system is our chemical control system, releasing hormones that the body needs to use in response to certain stimuli, like touch. Without touch, we would not be able to properly function, lacking the stimulus needed to be happy and in good health. We have a habit of self medicating ourselves through a variety of ways when our body is missing key components. Massage can help by bringing touch back into the lives of the touch deprived, allowing the chemicals to release and restore balance in the body as a system whole. The skin and our endocrine systems are attached, like needle and thread; where there is action, there is a follow through. Without one system, we wouldn’t be able to function up to par.
Fritz, S. (2013). Integumentary, Cardiovascular, Lymphatic, and Immune System. In Mosby’s
Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage (4th ed.). Maryland Heights, Missouri: Elsevier
Sabol. LMHC, NCC, CSOTS, P. (2016, January 9). Touch and The Human Mind [Personal
Shusterman, N. (2004). The Schwa was here. New York: Dutton Children’s Books.