Touch and the Central Nervous System

by Jami Kohlmann, LMT

"If you consider a lifetime of taking in stimulus—all of your experiences, emotions, traumas, thoughts, feelings, and life events big and small—your amazing nervous system handles everything in how you respond and how the situation is resolved..."

central nervous system, face

1. What does our nervous system do?

How often do you think of your nervous system? Ironically, most people never do! But it’s always busy working to keep you alive, moving, and functioning in many different ways in your life.  It never stops, not even when you’re sleeping.  It is constantly collecting and assessing information, and deciding what to tell your body to do in response.  It makes your organs function, your muscles and skeleton move, tells you what to say and how to feel...in essence, you ARE your nervous system.

Understanding and respecting the nervous system is important to help it recover if it becomes overloaded. If you consider a lifetime of taking in stimulus—all of your experiences, emotions, traumas, thoughts, feelings, and life events big and small—your amazing nervous system handles everything in how you respond and how the situation is resolved.  It is a wonderfully complex and efficient system, that is usually able to process information and regulate itself, maintaining a balance so you can continue to function at your best.
 

2. Symptoms of an out of balance nervous system

There are times, however, where the nervous system is “out of balance,” which can lead to a long list of symptoms.
Some of which are: anxiety, muscle tension, pain, illness, depression, hypertension, and fatigue.

Anxiety—Muscle Tension—Pain—Illness—Depression—Hypertension—Fatigue

Oftentimes, we just keep plugging away at life and don’t stop to check in with our mind and body. Stress becomes the norm, and because we can deal with it—we do. But there are so many things a person can do to bring some balance back to their body, help it heal, and increase their overall well-being (see the “self-care” blog for more on that!)

3. Massage therapy and the nervous system

One of the many things people can do to feel better physically and mentally is to get massage therapy. There are certainly physical benefits of massage, such as lengthening and softening tissues, working out “knots,” releasing soft tissue restrictions, etc. But one of the most beneficial effects of massage and bodywork is how it can help calm, stimulate, and rebalance your nervous system.

"Massage can help calm, stimulate, and rebalance your nervous system..."

What happens on the surface of the body—in other words how a practitioner applies touch to your skin, fascia, and nerve endings—dictates what message those nerve endings send to your brain to tell the rest of your body how to respond. 

4. Building trust with our nervous system

Say we come across a tender or sore area during massage and we sense that your body tenses up and your breathing becomes shallow.  These are physical signs that your brain received the message and a protective mechanism has been engaged. Many client’s reaction is telling us to “keep on digging,” thinking that it will make it feel better. But…GOING DEEPER WILL NOT HELP

"We must find a technique and level of pressure that allows your nervous system to trust that what is happening is healing, not destructive."

We must find a technique and level of pressure that allows your nervous system to trust that what is happening is healing, not destructive. After a period of desensitizing, we may be able to apply more pressure, but only if that is what will be the most helpful to your mind and your body. 

5. Find your therapist

There are dozens of massage and bodywork techniques out there, all designed to help improve your health and well-being.  Find a therapist that understands that your body and your nervous system is unique. One who will work with you to develop and fine-tune the treatment that will be most beneficial to your health!