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Hands-on treatment- How does it even work?

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

If you have had, or are thinking about, having treatment to help with your pain, then you might be thinking “how does the treatment even work?”

In this post, you will learn:

· The importance of touch

· The 30/70 rule

· The physical AND chemical change you get from treatment

· The role of the brain during treatment

· How to enhance the benefits of treatment

The importance of touch

Have you ever had a light touch on your shoulder from a loved one, or a hug from your friend when you are feeling down?

It has a therapeutic benefit.

It is a very subtle action but it has given you a number of different benefits. You feel less stressed, happier and cared for.

This is because the touch you received created a chemical change within your body that made you feel better.

So, what relevance does this have for hands on treatment like acupuncture, massage and manipulation?

Time for a service?

When you are lying on the bench having some kind of treatment, it is easy to think of the therapist as much like a mechanic that is fixing a car.

You have something “wrong” in the body that needs to be “fixed” and the therapist is working on that to bring it back to “normal”.

Let’s say you have back pain and the therapist is working on the joints in your body.

He may be twisting you in certain positions and you may feel some clicking and popping. Or maybe you are having some massage and he is working on a tight and tense area.

You probably assume that you feel better (or worse sometimes) because the body has been corrected and is now working better mechanically, much like a car.

Your muscles are looser and your joints are freer.

It is true that when you have treatment, you are probably working better mechanically- but this is only part of the picture.

When you have treatment, you are not only being changed physically, but you are also being changed chemically.

The 30/70 rule

When you have treatment, 30% of the benefits you feel can be attributed to some kind of physical change in the body.

Some of the ligaments are now moving easier or the muscles are now less knotted.

However, 70% of the benefits can be attributed to the nervous system and chemical change that has occurred within your blood stream.

When you have treatment (that is appropriate for you), the chemical soup that runs through your body has now changed.

The following occurs:

· You have less stress hormones

· You have more circulating endorphins

· You have less inflammation

· You have less acidity/higher PH.

The chemical soup within your body is now interacting with your nervous system beneficially, rather than negatively and you feel less pain as a result.

The role of the brain

What explains this chemical change in the body in response to treatment?

This is when we move from the body and consider the brain.

The brain can be thought of as a wet sponge that is full of beneficial chemicals. When you have treatment, the sponge is squeezed and all these chemicals are released into the blood stream and nervous system.

The big squeeze

If the above is true, then how do you get a big, healthy squeeze from the brain to create a massive influx of beneficial chemicals into the body?

The following criteria need to be met for the biggest squeeze from your brain:

· You need to have a good relationship with your therapist. Trust and rapport are key for you to feel relaxed and able to “let go”.

· You need to feel safe. You need to feel like the treatment is not a “threat” and causing you more damage

· You need to have expectations met. If you feel you need a certain type of treatment, then these preferences should be met for you to get the most benefit.

When the above conditions are met, then the treatment that you are receiving has the potential to be much more “potent” and beneficial for you.

It is the responsibility of both the clinician and the patient to ensure that these criteria are met.

If you do not feel you have a bond with your therapist, find a new one.

If you do not feel safe, then communicate this.

If you have expectations of what you think you need, then let your therapist know.

In conclusion

Touch is incredibly powerful when it is delivered a certain way.

The brain is responsible for creating a chemical change in the body that accounts for the majority of the benefits of treatment.

You can enhance the benefits of treatment when you make sure that you trust your therapist, feel safe and agree on the treatment that is being offered.

Thanks for reading!

Further reading:

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