And what makes is feel so good.
Lets talk about it...
When we think about the body in relation to massage (especially remedial) we tend to focus on muscles, bones and joints. Maaaybe we’ll consider nerves and fascia. But what about organs? Do we consider our organs when we think about massage? Do you ever think that massage therapists may need to understand the location and organisation of the intestinal tract to get to the iliopsoas? Or that we may know that back pain could actually be a sign of a kidney infection? Then, there is understanding of the biggest organ in the body that people always seem to forget about.
Your skin covers an average of 20 square feet and is there to protect everything underneath from pain and infection. Through a number of nerves and layers it; regulates internal temperature, presents us with an awareness of our surroundings preventing potential pain to the body (you know that burning sensation you feel when too close to a flame?). It plays an active role in the immune system and much much more. One square inch of our skin houses 20 blood vessels, 650 sweat glands and over 1000 nerve endings. It's a resilient, message sending, fast regenerating organ; the largest and heaviest one we have.
And it reveals more about yourself than you may think.
The elasticity, colouring and texture of your skin can tell me; your age (roughly), your hydration levels, your oxygen levels, your insulin levels and can also tell me about other tissues in your body. Any scars, bruises and discolouration on your skin left by accidents, surgeries and/or conditions are like a secret map to other issues that may be causing you problems... problems that you may not even be aware of. So as you de-robe in the treatment room and lay on the table under the towel or sheet just remember, your skin is telling me secrets about you that you may not even know about 😳.
Okay, let's get some science(y) words in here.
The epidermis the dermis and the hypodermis (also known as the subcutis) are the 3 main layers of skin. The epidermis is the topmost layer. It has no blood vessels and it's where we shed from, it is usually the thinnest layer yet can be subdivided into a further 5. The middle layer is the dermis, the dermis is where so much magic happens. It can be subdivided into 2 layers and is the home to sweat glands, blood vessels, hair follicles and lymphatic vessels; it even produces sebum which is an oil that makes our hairs waterproof (pretty cool huh?). It is also the home of a few fancy nerves, grouped into categories:
Mechanoreceptors (which sense pressure and proprioception)
Thermoreceptors (which sense temperature)
Nociceptors (which sense pain)
The hypodermis or subcutis is the third and deepest layer made up of subcutaneous tissue; a fatty tissue which regulates temperature in the body. It is also the layer that attaches to the bones and muscles.
When I place my hands on your skin, they become my touch, my sight and my hearing. I process all the information that I am being presented with in the body, through my fingertips and palms. As this happens, the nerves (mainly the mechanoreceptors) in your skin relay signals to your brain and subsequently stimulate the release of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins (these are all the things that make you feel happy, calm and pleasured). However If the pressure is too rough, too hard, too nonchalant, too cold or too dry then these "pleasure hormones" will not be released, neither the muscles or mind will be able to relax and you will just lay there, counting down the minutes until it's over. The massage will serve less benefit than planned and feel like a waste of your time (and money). As a therapist, the skin is our first point of contact and essentially our only true point of contact (as we can't touch the muscles and joints directly) so it's very important that we have an understanding of how touching it can effect your whole nervous system.
We take measures where we can. Lots of us try to exercise regularly and eat well, try not to drink or smoke (too much or at all) so that we can look after all of the organs inside, keeping a healthy heart, healthy lungs, a healthy mind. But our skin is just as important. I encourage the use of SPF, drinking lots of water, sleeping 7-9 hours and using moisturisers, I also encourage you to touch it, understand how it feels in your hands, press and poke, pinch and knead, slap and tickle and feel what the difference is l like, look at the colours and feel its elasticity, what can you feel underneath? Try it, get under your skin.
Speak up if it hurts. Some deeper work can have a discomfort but it shouldn't be painful, be sure to know when your therapist is just providing a painful and unpleasureable service; you wouldn’t let somebody carelessly poke at your brain so don’t let them carelessly poke at your skin. We won't be upset if you speak up, we don't want to hurt you, every body has a different pain threshold (for a number of reasons) and sometimes that can be difficult to read. Also, If you have any questions about anything ‘out of the ordinary’ on your skin, ask your therapist. No we are not dermatologists but we may be able to help. If not, we may be able to refer you to somebody who can.
I usually encourage a longer session especially if you are coming in for a general sports massage, a general pregnancy massage or a deep tissue massage. The extra time allows your body to adjust to my touch and me to your response, it allows for the skin to soften and become more supple, it allows for a slower, deeper pressure to be applied and with the help of oils and lotions (and in the winter time maybe even a heated massage table), it allows for a truly relaxing experience.
So have a think next time your'e laying on the massage bed, of all the things your skin may be telling your therapist, and take note of what your skin is telling you. Are you relaxed? Are you warm? Does ot feel good? How is your therapist treating you...
And your biggest O?