Psychoneuroimmunology is a science that studies the connection between the psychological process, the central nervous system and the immune system, and validates many theories of alternative medicine. Studies in psychoneuroimmunology have shown that massage therapy has a broad range of healing effects based on its ability to influence the central nervous system. I learned about psychoneuroimmunology (a term coined in the 1970s by Rober Ader) in the early 1990s when I was discovering alternative theories on healing the body including a natural food diet, yoga, acupuncture, and massage. I came to the conclusion then, and still believe today, that massage is a significant and underestimated system for healing the body, and that the science of psychoneuroimmunology is one of the most important keys in legitimizing (to the medical and scientific community) massage as a vehicle for deep healing.
Although there has been a long history of theories and study of the connection of the central nervous system and the immune system, it wasn’t until 1975 that Robert Ader and Nicholas Cohen demonstrated conditioning of immune function (by experimenting with rats conditioned by the taste of saccharin and an immunosuppressant) and coined the term psychoneuroimmunology. Ader and Cohen, along with David Felton who discovered a network of nerves linked up to cells of the immune system, went on to edit the book Psychoneuroimmunology in 1981 which detailed the brain-immune system connection. Since then, many studies have strengthened and added to their conclusions.
It has been shown scientifically that a chemical link exists between our emotions, and the regulation of the immune system through the central nervous system, including a strong link between stress and disease. Even just thinking positively has been shown to alter our chemistry. And on the other hand, negative thought can aggravate the nervous system and eventually lead to unhealthy conditions in the body. Massage had been found to stimulate sensory receptors in the peripheral nervous system causing a chain reaction throughout the central nervous system that helps restore homeostasis and brings a feeling of wellbeing to the receiver of a massage.
As research at the TOUCH Research Institute has shown, massage stimulates the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters that have many positive effects on the central nervous system. For instance, massage increases the available level of dopamine in the body which influences fine motor activity, and is said to increase the senses and feelings of intuition, inspiration, joy and enthusiasm. Massage also appears to regulate various neurohormones (such as epinephrine and nor epinephrine), bringing more balance homeostasis to the body.
Research in psychoneuroimmunology has been instrumental in the development of pharmaceuticals for use in both psychiatric and non-physchiatric illness and immune diseases. Although such pharmaceuticals have their place in an imperfect world, I feel helping someone’s own body come to a point of relaxation and balance through massage, is the first best approach for bringing their central nervous system into balance and boosting their health and immunity. ~
© Adam C. McAlmont, LMT 2012, 2013 • Please do not reproduce without permission.