Structure and Function of the Nervous System

One of the most important subjects for massage therapists is learning and understanding the nervous system and how it applies to pain and the muscles. Everything in the body is controlled by the nervous system. It is the fastest homeostatic response mechanism of the body.

Nervous System Fuctions

Three main functions of the nervous system:

  1. Sensory – senses the internal and external environment
  2. Integrative – analyses the incoming information, stores some info and decides what to do with it
  3. Motor – initiates muscular contractions or glandular secretions receptors.

Organization of the Nervous System

Structural Divisions based on anatomical locations:

Central Nervous System (CNS) – Brain and Spinal Cord

Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) – Cranial Nerves that originate from the brain and spinal cord

Functional Divisions based on the part of the body that responds:

Somatic Nervous System (SNS) (Somatic means “of the body”) consisting of two sections:

  1. Somatic Sensory Neurons which transmit information from the cutaneous and special sense receptors in the head, body wall and extremities to the CNS
  2. Somatic Motor Neurons which transmit information from the CNS to the skeletal muscles. (Voluntary System)

Autonomic (Independent as in works independently) Nervous System (ANS) consists of two sections:

  1. Sensory Neurons transmit information from receptors in the viscera (internal organs) TO the CNS
  2. Motor Neurons transmit information FROM the CNS to smooth muscle, cardiac muscle and glands. Involuntary system – Not under conscious control.
    Sympathic Branch of ANS – Fight or Flight response. Fear AND Joy system.
    Parasympathetic Branch of ANS – Rest and Digest. Feed and Make Love response.

Nerve Cell Structure and Function

The Peripheral Nervous System.

The Central Nervous System.

Pain and Massage Therapy

History of Pain Theories

The Anatomy of Pain.

Pathologies of the Nervous System.

Glossary of Terms for the Nervous System

Neuroscience Education About Pain (Aka Pain Science, neuromatrix theory of pain)

Simple version:

The brain is the center of the nervous system. Your brain learns as you go through life. It takes in Everything and decides what to do with the information. Each person develops a different interpretation of danger, stress and pain – the neuromatrix – which is a complex combination of genetics, personal experience and behavior. All of this sensory input goes into the brain when it makes it’s decision on what to do.

Acute pain is a warning system that there may be something wrong.

Chronic pain happens when the pain neuromatrix is strenthened by nociceptive and non-nociceptive mechanisms. This is called sensitzation which is that less and less input is required to produce the pain.

Peripheral sensitization results when injury induces the release of a number of sensitizing agents from damaged cells and immune cells. These sensitizing agents can be considered “inflammatory soup.”

Central sensitization of nociceptive pathways results from a cyclic feedback system that perpetuates the nociceptor stimuli. Eventually chronic pain conditions result in changes in the CNS, and pain is experienced with little or no peripheral stimuli or nociception. Biochemical changes occur in the brain, resulting in altered perception. Sensation can become misinterpreted and intertwined with past learning, leading to strong emotional overtones to the pain experience.

Fritz, Sandy; Fritz, Luke. Mosby’s Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage – E-Book (Kindle Locations 6129-6130). Elsevier Health Sciences. Kindle Edition.