Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Power of Touch

Why does being touched instantly cause a positive surge in energy?  It may be the same thing that can make people spend an arm and a leg in exchange for an hour long rub down by a complete stranger.  Aside from massage being considered as just another way to escape from the woes of day to day life it does have several definitive physiological benefits which support the movement to consider it a necessity rather than a luxury.  

Professionals in bodywork often take the power of touch for granted.  We spend most of our days in close contact with others in effort to promote things such as relaxation or alignment.  Being able to make therapeutic contact with others is an art among bodyworkers and it is rare to hear of a trainer or therapist who doesn't receive professional touch as well.  Still many people not involved in bodywork can go through an entire day without ever experiencing physical contact from another human being.  Then they wonder why they experience symptoms of depression, fatigue, and loneliness despite regularly interacting with hundreds of people daily.  These could be the effects of other psychological and physical problems but there's a greater chance that these are signs that the physical barriers they place in between themselves and others isolate them from stimulation.  When bodies aren't stimulated they have little to no reason to continue functioning in an environment   They will eventually shut down, but not before descending through levels of fatigue.  This is not an attempt to diagnose any serious physical or mental condition.  This is an attempt to introduce the benefits of touching and getting touched regularly by friends, family, and professionals.

Numerous studies have shown that touching (e.g. massages, back pats, holding hands, high-fives, et cetera) does several things for us as living organisms:

  • Improves immune function
  • Reduces feelings of anxiety
  • Promotes blood circulation and lymph flow
  • Causes the release of pain-killing, stress-reducing endorphins 
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves sleep patterns
  • Helps to increase weight gain in premature infants
  • Improves tissue strength and elasticity
  • Promotes sense of well-being
  • Improves posture and alignment
  • Promotes kinesthetic awareness in other regions of the body

When massage is performed by the hands of a masseuse (professional or non-professional) or foam roller this gives muscles a chance to relax from stressful activity while blood and lymph continue to circulate in and out of the inflamed tissue by pumping, pushing, and rolling.  An increase in blood and lymph circulation thereby increases the amount of nutrients and chemicals transported in and out of muscle fibers.  Not only does this lead to a speedy recovery but it also helps to strengthen muscle which is lengthened during training by removing waste products and pulling in nutrients as materials for repair.

The key to an effective workout is to break down muscle tissue.  Then the real trick to getting results depends on how well you're able to mend them back together.  The effect of the body adapting itself in order to endure a greater level of stress in just a couple of days after an intense workout, sometimes referred to as a period of supercompensation, cannot occur without adequate rest and giving sufficient room for muscles to rebuild.    So, it is important to keep the rebuilding zone as free of clutter and debris as possible (e.g. fascial adhesions) and one of the easiest ways to do that can be just as simple as asking someone for back rub or taking a roller out and doing it yourself.  If you just have time for a little mood booster, then why not give someone else a pat on the back?  Giving can oftentimes be just as good as receiving.

Noel L. Poff C.S.C.S, C.P.T, L.M.T

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