Ask anyone that has enjoyed a scalp or head and shoulder massage from a trained masseuse if they feel better for it. The answer is a universal yes. Head massages are hard to beat for relaxation. But what happens to our bodies when we receive a head, scalp, and neck massage? How does it work? Does kneading and stroking the part of the body surrounding the brain elicit some physiological response, or is it all in our head, literally?
This may happen by targeting the causes of particular symptoms, such as neck pain, back pain, stress, and anxiety. Massage can also boost feelings of happiness and relaxation by the mere acts of laying on hands. Humans and animals and almost all living species show positive responses to touch.
Babies will not survive without parental touch and in fact, human touch decreases pain symptoms in newborns. Studies that examine the links between pain relief and touch show promising results. Despite the relatively immobile cranium, small muscles around the head respond well to touch. And this part of the body is the closest to the brain, which processes sensations.
The parts of the body that typically receive massage are the back and legs. Massage helps ease muscle spasms and knots in parts of the body prone to tightness and tension. Obviously, the scalp and back of the head contain only small muscles that play no part in moving your body around or resisting heavy loads.
But tension can build up in this area. Researchers tested a group of 24 female students for the effects of head massage on their well-being. The study found that head massage treatment reduced depression symptoms, decreased feelings of boredom, and positively influenced anxiety levels. Another benefit was the feeling of liveliness experienced by the participants. A network of nerve endings and receptors in our skin processes touch and sensations and sends the information via the nervous system to the brain.
But some parts of the body have more pressure receptors than others. Your face, fingers and tongue are highly sensitive thanks to the high density of receptors. The back, the target for most massage therapies, is actually much less responsive to touch because of the low density of touch receptors. The physical and mental benefits of massage are linked. Psychosomatic therapy has always looked at how the mind influences the body but this mind-body concept is increasingly accepted these days.
External stimuli has the power to alter our brain chemistry, which affects our body. We now know our state of mind can influence our gut health and vice versa. Negative thoughts and sensations can have a detrimental effect on our physical appearance.
And the reverse is also true — physical pain or discomfort can lead to mental strain and depression. We need to go back to our early ancestors and even to our primate cousins to find the origins of massage. This instinctive technique for dealing with aches and for relieving stress would have been part of everyday life long before language was invented. It takes a lot of trust for one human to let another touch their head.
But our ancestors knew what was good for them. Early humans figured this out and applied it daily. Ancient Chinese wrote about health treatments involving therapeutic massage. Hindu scripts regularly talk of massage. The Ayurvedic tradition absorbed massage as an integral part of its teachings. In modern times, Ayurvedic practitioners helped popularise Indian head massage in the west. Experts are currently examining a link between the use of Indian Head Massage and improved recovery from illness and injury. A study found that Indian Head Massage reduced muscle tension, energised participants, and helped patients deal with negative psychological experiences.
Recovery from injury requires a multi-faceted approach. Doctors and other medical professionals should not expect to tell patients that a single approach to recovery is all they need.
Physical therapy combined with therapies which affect mood and the parasympathetic nervous system is a much more effective approach. The fact is that depressed people recover from injury more slowly.
Negative emotions often cause blockages in muscle tissue , a fact that every massage therapist and acupuncturist will relate to. Regrowth of hair is one of the touted benefits of head massage. Can follicles of hair grow back from the power of touch on the scalp? A study from showed that after several months of a standardised scalp massage test on men, hair thickness increased significantly. The main cause of male baldness is the DHT molecule , a male sex hormone.
Balding caused by hormones cannot be reversed by scalp or head massage. However, the increased blood flow to the scalp from massaging the scalp can strengthen the hair follicles and prevent further hair loss. The scalp, being at the top of the head, far from the heart, sometimes needs a little help with blood circulation.
One contributor to male pattern baldness could be reduced blood flow to hair follicles. Tests on a small group 25 of people showed promising results on the reduction of mental fatigue after receiving binaural beats and massage treatment.
Researchers found that sustained attention, verbal short-term and long-term memory and non-verbal long-term memory were statistically significantly increased after using brain massage. In essence, this concept of massaging the brain improves attention span, memory, alertness, and cognitive function. It helps us think better. Remember the tingling, pleasurable sensation you feel when the hairdresser massages your scalp?
Just try it. But ASMR is a new sensory phenomenon that uses triggers such as sound and slow movements to generate the tingling sensation. Not everyone experiences euphoric sensations. In general, the effect on mood is positive, with 4 out of every 5 people claiming it can create mood-lifting emotions at least temporarily. Researchers found that the treatment may benefit people suffering from depression more than the average participant. ASMR sensations can be felt in the back of the head and can move to the upper and lower back.
At present, the underlying mechanisms that help create these sensations are unknown. All we know is that the mood improvements that AMSR offers should generate more studies in the scientific community. The Bodywise Clinic will be closed until covid restrictions are lifted. We will not be taking any bookings during this time. All Gift Vouchers and pre-paid treatments which are due to expire while we are closed can be used once we reopen. About The Author. Member of the Irish Massage Therapy Association.
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