Could a Massage a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

By Riva Preil

Who doesn’t loooooooove a good massage?  Not only does one feel more relaxed afterwards, but the release of “knots” and trigger points allow the muscles to achieve a better resting tone.  But could there be more involved in the process? Get excited, because…science may be on the cusp of discovering that massage actually creates a positive physiological response in our bodies!

Scientists have been studying the neuronal pathways associated with pain and pressure for many years.  Mechanoreceptors in our skin are primary neurons that respond to mechanical stimuli, and they send messages throughout our body by sending action potentials.  The four types of mechanoreceptors, Pacinian corpusclesMeissner’s corpusclesMerkel’s discs, and Ruffini endings respond to mechanical pressure and distortion.  Scientists have identified that C-fibers transmit the message of pain to the brain.  However, there has been limited research to date regarding how our nervous system responds to pleasant touch.  Dr. David J. Anderson at the California Institute of Technology has recently pioneered research in this direction.  He and his team have identified a unique type of sensory neuron in mice, MRGPRB4, which transmits messages to the brain in response to pleasurable stroking touch.  The receptors of these neurons are located in hairy skin, and they were activated by massage-like stroking as opposed to pinching.  What this means is that the mice physiologically respond well and feel good when stimulated in a positive, pleasant manner. Scientists have yet to perform research in this area with humans- do we also have MRGPRB4 neurons?  Do we too respond in a similar manner to pleasant touch?  Time will tell…

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