Anatomy is the study of the structure of the body, while physiology is the study of its function. If you are going to become a massage therapist in the United States, chances are good that you will be required to study a great deal of human anatomy and physiology (A&P). Most states with massage licensing laws require programs that include 200 or more class hours devoted to A&P. That’s about the same number of classroom hours you would have taking three or four college semesters!
How to Learn Anatomy and Physiology
Your school will likely provide a number of ways to learn the anatomy and physiology. This will likely include lectures, reading assignments, writing assignments and worksheets, as well as hands-on work with other students and with props such as an in-school skeleton.
While some students will have an easy time with this, most will have to spend additional time at home reading and memorizing. Instructors and books often provide various memory devices to learn specific anatomy terms, such as the cranial nerves. Anatomy coloring books give another way to spend time examining and considering the different structures of the body.
Why do you need so much Anatomy and Physiology knowledge to be a massage therapist? First of all, you learn medical terminology. As a medical massage therapist, there’s a good chance that you will be communicating with other healthcare professionals, and knowing medical terminology allows you to communicate in a common, precise language.
At the very least, your clients will be giving you a medical history, and knowledge of medical terminology will let you better understand the conditions that they bring to your table.
Secondly, you learn about the integumentary system, or the skin. As a massage therapist, this is what you will be touching when you do your work. You will most likely be the only healthcare provider to see your client’s skin on a regular basis.
Working on the back, you may see conditions that the client is unaware of. As such, you can provide the client with a referral to a physician if you see what appears to be an abnormality. Note that massage therapists are not licensed to diagnose or treat conditions, but you can tell your client that something looks abnormal and they might want to have it looked at.
You can know whether you need to avoid an area of skin that might be aggravated by massage treatment. In addition, knowledge of skin abnormalities can help you protect yourself from contacting potentially contagious skin conditions.
Muscular System and Skeletal System
Knowing the muscular and skeletal systems (muscles and bones) is critical to your success as a massage therapist. By knowing the location of muscles, their functions and the bones they move, you can assess a massage client’s complaints and analyze whether a muscle needs to be released or strengthened.
You will know which muscles work together and which oppose the other’s actions. You may be able to determine what muscles need to be massaged based on your client’s complaints and/or by the description of how an injury occurred.
By knowing muscle physiology, you can better understand the effects of various massage modalities on the body. You will also learn what muscle conditions to avoid working on or which need you to reduce pressure or intensity of the massage.
Circulatory and Lymphatic Systems
Because massage can affect the flow of blood and lymph throughout the body, knowledge of the circulatory and lymphatic systems give you a better understanding of how your work affects the physiology of your client.
By knowing this, your massage may be more effective and you will also be aware of the circulatory or lymphatic conditions that may require you to alter your massage techniques or avoid massage altogether.
Current research indicates that massage effects may be as much or more due to neurological response to touch as much as to mechanical effects on the skin, muscles and fascia. Understanding the neurological basis of perception of touch requires knowledge and education in the neurological and sensory systems.
In addition, pain complaints can result from a muscle impinging on a nerve. If you know the pathways and origins of sensory and motor nerves, you can assess a client’s complaints and determine if a weakness or a pain complaint might be improved by working a muscle that could impinge on a nerve when in spasm or when overstretched.
Advantages of Having A&P Knowledge
When you acquire a thorough knowledge of human Anatomy and Physiology during your massage school studies you acquire the skills to assess clients, provide appropriate massage, and refer to other healthcare practitioners when necessary.
Combined with the hands-on skills taught in the classroom, you are equipped to be an integral part of your client’s healthcare team. If you are comfortable and familiar with the structure and function of the human body, you will give your clients confidence in your ability to advise and provide appropriate techniques to aid them in recovery.