Functional symptoms and today’s neuroscience

Massage therapists and functional symptoms

assessing and treating functional symptoms of lower leg numbnessAs massage therapists, we treat functional symptoms all the time. Functional symptoms means you may have pain or other complaints, but the doctors can find no cause. Nothing shows up on scans.

This can be frustrating to doctors. But for those of us who work with the body, it is normal. We figure out how to resolve your pain or stiffness by getting your body to function better.

Your body is related to your brain! Era of massage neuroscience

Research is starting to show the neuroscience of massage benefits. We are learning about how your muscles, brain and nervous system are connected. This gives us more options to be effective.

From Wikipedia--Complete neuron cell diagram, components of a myelinated vertebrate motorneuronFor example, you may think you are only coming to see me for a tight muscle. Or, perhaps a pain that has bothered you for years. But I know that every time I touch your skin, the touch fires off nerve signals. The nerve signals send messages to the brain. If your brain decides that it is safe, it tells the body to let go of tension. As you let go, it affects areas remote from where I am working. Perhaps you feel more relaxed all over. Or your digestion works better. And stress melts away.

Doctors and functional symptoms

Functional symptoms are subjective. This means that doctors cannot find a pathology or disease. Yet, you may feel pain, distress or cognitive losses that interfere with functioning.

As hard as this is for you, sometimes medical neurologists also find this baffling. According to a 2005 review paper, 10-30% of neurology patients had long term functional symptoms that had no known medical cause. Of these, 50% actually become disabled by their symptoms.

These patients were frequent users of medical services. They didn’t fit neatly inside the known boxes of treatment protocols. So then they may have been labeled psychosomatic. Some were even accused of worse psychiatric problems. Consequently, the patients felt insulted or ignored.

Instead, that paper encouraged neurologists to learn lessons from holistic approaches. They recommended compassionate communication, similar to the bio-psychosocial model. This involves an individualized approach that is hopefully now the cutting edge treatment for chronic pain patients.

Massage: individualized therapy, integrative treatment

Massage therapy can fill some of the gap here. We take an individualized approach. And we provide pain relief. We may not be the first stop for chronic pain, but more research recognizes our role. We are even gaining recognition in large scale review studies.

Massage at Integration Massage is part of the cutting edge in integrative medicine. In fact, I am one of the few massage therapist members of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, AIHM. Integrative approaches means I treat the person as a whole human being, including body, heart, mind and spirit.

How does this make a difference for chronic pain? Or for functional symptoms that are hard to resolve? The answer comes from the neuroscience of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity: what we can do for ourselves

Neuroplasticity refers to the capacity of the brain and nervous system to rewire itself (see Dr. Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself). It means we can improve how our brains function. We can wake up sensation or even change how we experience pain. However, it takes training. As you know, muscle training requires increased weight or reps to build strength. On the other hand, the nervous system is more delicate. It fatigues easily. We need to make little changes that build on each other. So, we must work gently at first.

The emotions are also involved in our experience of pain or limitation. In fact, our thoughts and all our experiences can be reflected by our bodies. So, neuroplasticity must also address our wholeness.

I got training in this from a yearlong class in 2012, Functional Neurology for Bodyworkers, FNB. There, I learned that neuroplasticity does not come from what I do for you. Instead, what you do for yourself is key to rewire your own brain.

Integration Massage: neuroscience for functional symptoms

24118128_s beautiful Indian woman celebrating jumping for joy, both knees bent

Integration Massage has several strategies to resolve functional limitations. For example, I offer Mindful Awareness in Bodywork Therapies, functional neuro massage, and Ortho-Bionomy®. In addition, I may suggest some self-care strategies. I also provide neuroscience education, so that you understand the changes you can make.

Initially, when you have less pain, emotional stress or tension, your body starts to function better. Then you can use the sensory feedback of gentle touch to support your changes. However, ultimately what you do for yourself is key. So I also teach how to continue the benefits at home. As we go along, you may find you have additional untapped inner resources to support your well-being.

If you would like to learn what Integration Massage can do for your condition, please give me a call. 503-708-2911. Or, you may schedule an appointment at a time of your convenience here: Schedule appointment

More posts: How does Functional Neurology Massage Work?; and Controversy.
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