Massage & Bodywork

March/April 2013

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Recently, scientists have discovered answers to questions such as: Why does the same touch cause one person to cringe and pull away and another to breathe deeply and relax? ( Just like our furry friends, the hair on our skin makes our skin a social organ, processing social touch.3) Why do some people have more tactile acuity than others? (Smaller hands have a keener sense of touch because sensory neurons are closer together.4) Is direct skin-to-skin contact more effective than mechanized stroking? (Yes! The neural response to human touch is greater than similar touch with an inanimate object.5) How is it that practitioners can recall tactile information, for example a client's physical nuances, as soon as we lay our hands on her? (Quantitative tactile memory exists in the frontal lobes and can be controlled consciously.6) The studies that directly impact massage and bodywork practitioners address the practical application of hands-on techniques or related methods of treatment for specific populations of people. For example, a study comparing two types of massage therapy for chronic low-back pain—full-body relaxation massage versus specific treatment techniques—has been referenced in a few Somatic Research columns.7 The study results are intriguing: both types of massage were equally effective in reducing the symptoms of chronic back pain. This is an example of applied research, and the implications to clinical practice are palpable. It also leaves us with a question best answered by basic science. Basic science, or mechanistic research, explains the how and why of things. In the realm of somatic therapies, Our ability to sense gentle touch is known to develop early and remain ever-present in our lives, yet, until now, scientists have not known exactly how humans and other organisms perceive such sensations. Identifying the various sensory neurons and their response to force may help us understand how and when to touch others. We connect with our own sensory neurons skillfully and without thought. What might we do differently to connect with our clients' various neurons more specifically and effectively? Basic Science vs. Applied Research Scientific research can be broken down into two general categories of investigation: basic science and applied research. In the realm of basic science, also referred to as mechanistic research, studies attempt to uncover how something works. Applied research simply asks, "Does this work?" and poses questions regarding safety and effectiveness as they relate to specific populations. these studies explain the physiological mechanisms underlying touch—what is happening underneath the skin when we touch the body in various ways. In the example above, the question on most of our minds after reading the results was, "Why does gentle, nonspecific massage have similar positive effects to deep, specific therapeutic massage when they feel so different?" Will understanding the effects of gentle touch help us identify strategies to mediate the underlying dysfunction, and design effective and safe treatments specific to our clients' needs? Implications of Basic Science The ultimate goal of data from the lab is to eventually inform clinical decision making. There are few good examples in massage research. A series of studies have shown that abdominal pumping, one beat per minute for four minutes, can increase free white blood cells from See what benefits await you. 53

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