Anyone who has experienced massage knows how healing, relaxing and calming it can be. The main reason for this is the interaction that takes place between a skilled therapist’s touch and the client’s skin.  While this seems like a fairly simple process to understand, there is a complex and invisible communication between your skin and brain that allows you to experience the many benefits that you do from massage.

 

The Skin

Human skin forms part of the body’s integumentary system, which also includes such physical components as hair follicles, nails and glands.  The skin is the largest organ in the integumentary system that surrounds the underlying muscles, bones, ligaments and internal organs of the physical structure.  It is made up of several layers of tissue including the outer epidermis and the underlying connective dermis.

 

Purpose of Skin

The skin is the body’s interface with the external environment and is responsible for many vital and protective functions that maintain physical stasis. It:

•    maintains normal physical temperature in the body
•    is important in immunity and disease control
•    regulates optimum water levels in the body
•    helps synthesize Vitamin D and sustains Vitamin B
•    plays a primary role as a sensory receptor.

 

How The Skin’s Sensory Receptors Communicate with the Brain

The skin’s sensory receptors number in the millions and are located in both the epidermis and dermis. These receptors on the skin and beneath, along with blood and lymphatic channels in the dermis, are responsible for sending signals from the skin to the brain when stimuli such as touch, pressure, temperature changes, vibration or pain are experienced.

Collectively, the sensors that respond to touch and pressure are referred to as mechanoreceptors. Within this group, various nerve endings (receptors) have specific roles related to stimuli they receive from the skin:

  • Meissner corpuscles respond to light touch, are highly sensitive and adapt rapidly to changes in texture. They are located in the areas of the body that have no hair such palms of hands, soles of feet, lips, and eyelids.
  • Ruffini nerve endings are able to detect tension deep in the skin and fascia and are associated with sensing and proprioception in the area of the fingers.
  • Merkel nerve ending are capable of detecting sustained pressure.
  • Pacinian corpuscles also located in the skin and fascia are the sensors that can detect rapid vibrations.

 

Essential Oils and the Skin’s Response

When essential oil to the skin, the effects of the oil are carried along the same receptors to support soothing, calming and relaxing effects in the body and mind.

With the use of certain oils, the brain is stimulated to signal the body to produce the love and well-being hormone, oxytocin.  The skin’s biology and health is also improved with the use of essential oils, which provides nutrients, moisture, and healthy flora.

 

Massage and the Brain

The brain receives signals from the mechanoreceptors through the pressure, stretching and stroking of the skin during massage.  These inputs are transported via nerve fibres through the spinal cord and are received in various somatosensory areas of the brain’s cortex that result in emotional responses such as pleasure and calm.

During massage, the skin responds to touch and cortical interactions with improved circulation, detoxification processes, increased suppleness that helps prevent infection ingress and healing of any damage to skin tissue.

Your skin in a particularly vital aspect of well-being and protection in the body. It is an alive, interactive and fully communicative part of you. Next time you are relaxed and enjoying a massage, you can now appreciate just how much inner activity is collaborating to give you that response.

 

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