Sports Massage – the digestive system
Our blog series on Sports Massage continues with a look at the digestive system. This is a complex system relating to organs and tissues in several different parts of the body.
A sports massage therapist should be sensitive to issues a client may be experiencing with their digestive system as this can have an impact on the areas the massage covers or even whether it should be carried out.
What is the digestive system?
The digestive system processes the food and drink we put into our bodies. It prepares food to be absorbed, removes nutrients and expels waste.
At approximately 9m long, the gastrointestinal tract, or alimentary canal, is a key part of this process. This muscular tube starts at the mouth, continues with the pharynx and the oesophagus down into the stomach, through the small and large intestine, then finally the rectum and anus.
What other organs and structures are involved?
In addition to the GI tract, the digestive process is facilitated by the following organs and structures: teeth, tongue, salivary glands, liver, pancreas, gall bladder and bile ducts.
What takes place in the mouth and throat?
The mouth has hard and soft palates in its roof. A muscular organ, the tongue sits on the floor of the mouth and attaches to the hyoid bone and the mandible.
Chewing begins the process of breaking food down for absorption. The secretion of saliva, containing the enzyme salivary amylase, breaks down carbohydrate; saliva also helps to protect the teeth.
The food then passes through the pharynx, located at the back of the mouth, beneath the nasal cavity. The contraction of the oesophagus below the pharynx propels food into the stomach for digestion.
What is the function of the stomach?
Located under the diaphragm, the stomach is connected to the oesophagus at one end and the duodenum (the first part of the small bowel) at the other.
Its function is to break down food by releasing gastric juices. These contain hydrochloric acid to kill off bacteria and the enzyme pepsin, which breaks down protein.
And the pancreas and liver?
These organs continue the process. Pancreatic juice contains lipase to break down fat, amylase to break down carbohydrate into glucose and trypsin to break down protein into amino acids (see our blog on Personal Training: Diabetes and Obesity and Diabetes: The effects of a high carb/fat diet).
The second biggest organ after the skin, the liver secretes bile acids to allow emulsification – where fat mixes with water. The gallbladder, which is attached to the liver, stores bile then releases it into the small intestine.
What happens in the intestines?
The small intestine comprises the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. It runs from the stomach to the large intestine and plays a key part in digestion, using bile and pancreatic juice to break down food. Digested food passes into the blood vessels through the walls of the small intestine, which have a large surface area due to their folds and tiny hairs called microvilli.
The large intestine, or colon, follows on from the small intestine. Its function is to absorb water and some vitamins and minerals, while its bacteria – around 400 species in the average person – help to prevent intestinal infection.
The function of the rectum and anus
The final part of the process, the rectum stores faeces which is then expelled through the anus.
For information on other aspects of Sports Massage, please see our blogs on Sports Massage Treatments, Sports Massage: the lymphatic system, Sports Massage: Organelles and Sports Massage: the structural organisation of the body.