Rachel Richards

licensed massage therapist

east village, nyc

News: January 2015

Your brain's surprising body map: Unraveling the mystery of pain - Part 4

In my last newsletter, we discovered how our nervous systems can become easily hypersensitive to outside stimuli, resulting in a pain response to even the mildest of sensory input. Here we'll discuss another way our brains give us inaccurate information about our bodies.

On several occasions during massage sessions, clients have commented, "That doesn't even feel like my own leg (or arm, neck, toes, etc)." For that client, the experience of her leg changes due to outside influence - in this case, nurturing touch from a massage therapist.

Our brains store a map of our own bodies. The photo above is a cortical homunculus - a visual representation of the brain's map of the body. (Wikipedia gives a great description.) Notice that the amount of brain tissue devoted to a particular segment of the body corresponds not with the size of the body part, but with how many nerves innervate the area. You can see, for example, how much more sensitivity we have in our fingers as opposed to a large region like the hips.

But our brain's maps can lead us astray, resulting any number of neuro-biological phenomena. This altered perception of our bodies is especially common for people who have undergone significant physical changes, such as a major bodily injury, the loss of a limb (perhaps you've heard of phantom limb syndrome), or drastic weight loss. Someone who has lost a significant amount of weight often feels overweight, even though that is no longer the case.

Did you ever have a foot massage that left you suddenly aware that you had ten individual toes that can move independently? Of course you always knew you had toes, but you experience them differently after the treatment. People often stand up after a massage session feeling off balance. This is not a circulatory issue, as some may suspect, but rather a result of the nervous system being flooded with new information.

Massage therapy helps to clarify the map of the body. This is especially powerful for someone with chronic pain or stress, or who has been "disconnected" from his body. We have a tendency to get so lost in our heads, always thinking about work, family, relationships, scheduling, etc., that we lose awareness of our bodies. This puts us at high risk for injuries, illness, and chronic pain. Massage reconnects the mind and body, relieves tension, and teaches the brain to accurately process sensory and motor input. This heightened awareness of our bodies helps to reduce pain, relieve anxiety, and obtain an overall sense of wellbeing.

If you're new to massage or haven't received massage in a while, I urge you to treat yourself to a session and pay close attention to the way your body feels before and after the treatment. Your brain just might discover a new you!

Sources: Douglas Nelson, The World Massage Conference Photo: Psychology Wiki

(Join me next month for the 5th and final discussion in this series exploring the mystery of pain. See previous articles here.)

Weird, fun facts about our bodies

As a Quora.com reader, I come across a lot of interesting new information. I recently read some fascinating facts about the human body ...

  • There are 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the average human body - enough to circumnavigate the earth 2.5 times.
  • We are each made up of 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (7 octillion) atoms. That's a whole lot more than the 300,000,000,000 (300 billion) stars in our galaxy!
  • Humans are superior long-distance runners. Thousands of years ago, we chased our prey until they died of exhaustion.
  • In only half an hour, the human body emits enough heat to boil a half-gallon of water.
  • Humans and chimpanzees have the same amount of body hair.
  • Our bones are about four times stronger than concrete. Just a cubic inch of human bone can support almost 9 tons.
  • We each shed nearly 40 lbs of skin in our lifetimes.
  • If your brain were a computer, it could perform 38 thousand trillion operations per second! The most advanced computer can accomplish only .002% of that.
  • The human body forms seven miles of blood vessels for each pound of muscle or fat gained.
  • Our bodies each create 25 million new cells every second. That means that every 13 seconds, you generate more new cells than there are people in the United States.
  • Your brain is only about 2% of your total body mass, but uses 20% of your calorie and oxygen intake.
  • We breathe in large part to get rid of carbon dioxide. If there were another way to remove carbon dioxide from the blood, we would only take a breath about once per minute.
  • Our reasons for crying determine the structure of the tears we produce. Tear structures vary, for example, depending on whether we are grief-stricken, overjoyed, or cutting an onion!
  • Humans are the only mammals that cannot swallow and breathe at the same time.
  • We each produce enough saliva in our lifetimes to fill two swimming pools.

If you know a fun and interesting fact about the human body, please share it on my Facebook page!

What's new with me ...

I am excited to announce I've expanded my hours and now have availability for appointments on Wednesdays and Fridays! Call me at 917-359-8641 or e-mail Massage@Rachel-Richards.com to book your next session! I hope you all had a wonderful New Years celebration and I wish you good health and happiness in 2015! Jesse made a special New Years surprise for Sienna - click here to see that and more!

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American Massage Therapy Association

Swedish InstituteCertified Myoskeletal TherapistNational Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork

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