Courtesy of the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Consortium of the Human Connectome Project – www.humanconnectomeproject.org
Neuroscience is the study of the brain and nervous system. I earned a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Virginia and you can see a list of some of my neuroscience research publications here. My early work focused on how one brain cell talks to another, specifically, how the synapse, or area where brain cell communication happens, becomes specialized. More recently, my research interests focus on how manual therapy affects the nervous system.
The photo at the top is one of my favorite images of the brain. It shows a side view of a human brain in a living person measured using Diffusion Spectrum Imaging to reveal the white matter fiber architecture of the brain. The fibers are color-coded by direction: red = left-right, green = anterior-posterior, blue = up-down. The white matter fibers carry messages from one part of the brain or spinal cord to another. During a manual therapy session, it seems as if I can feel differences in tissue composition or tension in different parts of the brain and other parts of the body. These differences in tension may relate to the functional ability of the tissue. During the session, my goal is to normalize the tension throughout the brain and body.
One of the things that I love about neuroscience is being able to observe brain anatomy. I find a graceful beauty in the arrangement of biological structures, an inexact symmetry that somehow seems balanced and complete. One of the things that attracted me to the idea of becoming a massage therapist was the fact that I would get to observe people’s beautiful anatomy as part of what I do for a living– the flare of the eyebrow ridges, the curve of a cheek, the folded petals of wrinkled skin. Observing what people look like on the outside helps me to visualize the position of bones and muscles inside, and it gives me clues into how your body moves and holds tension.
The scientific basis for manual therapy’s effects interests me because of my scientific training. The bottom line is that there is a decent amount of evidence indicating that manual therapy helps many people feel better both in terms of specific problem areas and overall wellness. Identification of the physiological mechanisms underlying these effects are, not surprisingly, not as well-defined. Not only is it difficult to design experiments that can measure the effects of a specific manual therapy technique, it is also difficult to quantitatively capture feelings of wellness that are among the great benefits of receiving manual therapy. As more manual therapy research information accumulates, it is likely that a detailed story describing what exactly happens in the body while receiving manual therapy will eventually be revealed. In the meantime, I’m satisfied practicing my skills on clients who seek me out and return over and over because they feel better after they’ve received a session of manual therapy from me.