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Effects of Massage On The Cardiovascular and Lymphatic Systems

Lymphatic MassagePreface: As I think back to my massage school days, I reflect on the fact that each instruction day (or night) was different and could be described at various points along the way as: fun, magical, soul soothing, enlightening, edifying, educational, of course-and stressful.
But most important, while referring back to the word “stressful,” I was amazed at the seriousness of the topics we would be expected to know, inside and out, before ever being allowed the privilege of actually touching someone with respect to therapeutic massage techniques. Those first few weeks were overwhelming for most of us, and even though I had spent 20 plus years in the healthcare field, I was learning very quickly that this adventure was not going to be a piece of cake.

Our first major intellectual challenge would be to stay focused and actually understand the text in chapter one: The Central Nervous System. This undertaking would become  the primary point of intimidation, the one slice of the learning pie that would separate the passionate “I can do this” students from the “I’m not so sure this is for me” students. Yes, the  instruction was overwhelming for many, but well worth the opportunity to earn the right to call ourselves “Licensed Massage Therapists” someday.

The Central Nervous System chapter will not be discussed here, for obvious traumatic reasons (just kidding). Much easier to understand and appreciate, though, is how our work, facilitated through therapeutic touch, applies to and benefits your Cardiovascular and Lymphatic Systems.

A synopsis I have compiled from Massage Therapy Principles and Practice, by Susan G. Salvo is as follows:

•    Deep stroking improves circulation by mechanically assisting venous blood flow back to the heart. Massage also stimulates tissue release of histamines and acetylcholine. (This was a Florida Board of Massage test question when I became licensed).
•    Because blood circulation is enhanced (venous flow directly/arterial flow indirectly), the delivery and removal of products in the blood are improved.
•    Blood pressure is temporarily decreased by dilation of the capillaries, affecting the permeability of capillary walls.
•    Massage temporarily increases systolic stroke volume.
•    Massage decreases heart rate through decreased stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.
•    The number of functional red blood cells, and their oxygen carrying capacity, is
increased by the application of massage.
•    The presence of white blood cells in the capillaries increases following massage.
•    Gentle but firm massage strokes also increase the number of platelets in the blood.
•    Massage reduces ischemia.

Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system is an open system that moves in only one direction, toward the subclavian veins. Without a pump to assist flow, lymph moves only through pressure gradients from external sources.

Accumulation of interstitial fluid (swelling) in the soft tissues is referred to as lymphedema. It is due to local or general inflammation , obstruction, or removal of lymph nodes and can be congenital or the result of injury or surgery.

•    Massage reduces lymphedema by improving circulation to the lymphatic system, thereby helping to remove waste and bacteria from the system more effectively than passive range of motion or electrical muscle stimulation.
•    The presence of natural killer cells and their activity increase with massage, suggesting that massage may strengthen the immune system.

Isn’t NOW a good time to overhaul your cardiovascular and lymphatic systems through massage?

Nancy Shores, MT, LMT, Esthetician

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