Body Cells carry emotional memories.

by: Boris Prilutsky

Relations between empirical data and theoretical explanation.

The process of discovery in bio-medical science as in natural sciences in general, is quote non-linear. Often science accumulates a large body of empirical data and it takes a while before scientists can assemble it into a harmonious theory. Equally as frequent, it happens that the heap of empirical data didn’t yet find its theoretical explanation while as clinicians have found the way to handle the condition in the field.

The difference here lies is the relative location in time. A good example of such relativity would be the history of discovery of the vitamin B1.

In 1905, the first scientist to determine that if special factors (vitamins) were removed from food disease occurred was Englishmen, William Fletcher. Doctor Fletcher was researching the causes of the disease Beriberi when he discovered that eating unpolished rice prevented Beriberi and eating polished rice did not. William Fletcher believed that there were special nutrients contained in the husk of the rice.

In 1906, English biochemist Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins also discovered that certain food factors were important to health. In 1912, Polish scientist Cashmir Funk named the special nutritional parts of food as a “vitamine” after “vita” meaning life and “amine” from compounds found in the thiamine he isolated from rice husks. Vitamine was later shortened to vitamin. Together, Hopkins and Funk formulated the vitamin hypothesis of deficiency disease – that a lack of vitamins could make you sick.

Today we know much about the impact of vitamins on the human health. However, have we lived in 1905, clinicians would have known that in order to prevent the disease Beriberi patients had to eat unpolished rice even though they had no theoretical explanation of this phenomenon just yet.

Another such example is Oriental medicine. Even though it has been known to work for many thousand years, its concepts like Chi energy, meridians, etc. by now don’t have an exhaustive explanation in the modern medicine. However, should we live in the year 2105, it is very possible such theoretical explanation would already be found.

Expanding the list of examples to the massage field, the empirical protocol for what we know now as “The Gate Control theory” was presented in 1930 , by Prof. Sherback who have developed segment reflex /medical massage. Prof. Sherback wrote: “segment reflex massage procedure have to be started, from introductory part in an inhibitory regime. 7 to 10 minutes introductory massage, somehow, blocks pain impulses from reaching the brain. Even though he could not explain this phenomenon, the mandatory introductory procedure was accepted as a clinically proven fact. Since then it took thirty some years for Mezlack / Wall to theoretically substantiate these empirical findings in “the Gate Control theory” offering an explanation of the mechanism that blocks pain impulses from reaching the brain.

So should we work as massage therapist in the period between 30’s and sixties, we would have performed the empirically developed protocol without having a theoretical explanation. More so, the fact of professors Mezlack and Wall proposing “gate control” theory didn’t change the fact of mandatory introductory part of massage in inhibitory regime.

The topic of this article is one such phenomenon, that often take place on the massage table and yet, as of today, has no proven scientific explanation. Further in the article, I will discuss the physical manifestations of that condition, offer the protocol of addressing it and present you the existing working theory that sheds some light on the situation.

The vivid clinical example

During my 40 years of clinical experience, numerous times I have observed the odd emotional reactions of my clients to soft tissue mobilization. One of the most indicative cases happened approximately 25 years ago when I treated one of the world-renowned boxers of the time from a shoulder injury. The right shoulder had a severe sprain/strain case with suspicion of possible rotator cuff tear. As with all such cases, after 24 hours of cold application procedures (cold application must be applied no more than 10-15 minutes and must be repeated every two hours) we started intensive massage therapy on the unaffected side in order to awake vasomotor reflex, expressed by increasing blood supply to the injured extremities. I began to follow the treatment protocol for the aforementioned purposes, starting to mobilize all groups of rotator cuff muscles layer by layer, as well as the anterior, posterior, and middle part of the deltoid muscles. As he was receiving the massage therapy, suddenly this big, tough, extremely strong man started crying, vocalizing sounds like that of a little boy. He was confused and expressed his embarrassment at breaking down in tears.

I suggested him to cry out whatever this emotional memory was. The sport clinical psychologist was informed of the incident. During his evaluation, this professional athlete, with the help of the psychologist, recovered a memory an event that happened to him when he was eight years old. The brief story was that the boy’s maternal grandfather once interrupted the constant fight between the boy’s father and his alcoholic mother; by attacking boy’s father with a hammer. Afterward, the father was delivered in very difficult condition to the hospital and the grandfather was arrested. During this period of time, the little boy – future boxing champion, fell off his bicycle and hurt his left shoulder. Crying, he came to his mother who was screaming into the phone, and he asked for comfort because of the pain in his shoulder. Reacting in anger, his mother took his pleas as just whining for attention, and hit him with the phone a few times on this painful shoulder. All these years, on a subconscious level, this man carried difficult baggage in these memories of events related to losing the most important people in his life; his grandfather and father; and related to rejection by his mother. This kind of crying, emotional release tremendously helped this athlete to get rid of this subconscious trauma. This heavy emotional baggage was terribly disturbing to him and robbed him of much happiness in his life through all his years without him even knowing it existed.

My experience has taught me that usually such emotional releases happen with people at the time when we perform massage (including deep tissue mobilization) in the inhibitory regime, gradually increasing pressure, mainly applying petrissage techniques.

In general, emotional release doesn’t have to be expressed in crying. Many clients may report , experience worry, or may start shaking during the massage. Some of them could report unusual emotional sensitivity.

If such behavior exhibited by the client on your massage table, please explain your clients that all the above-mentioned reactions are very positive and within the few days of going through these reactions, they will feel a great deal better. Concurrently with your explanation please continue to perform petrissage on this problematic area for 7 to 10 minutes.

Occasionally, at the time when we’re mobilizing the affected area, for some clients their negative emotional memories could manifest as anxieties, including nausea, etc. In such cases we shall stop treatment, help the clients to sit and offer cold water. When anxiety episode is over, we should try to continue the treatment, or to reschedule for another time.

Coming back to the boxer whose case I presented above, he later admitted to a clinical psychologist that he never thought his subconscious baggage could destroy the quality and happiness of his life to such a degree. He told me that thanks to this innocent massage therapy on the healthy shoulder, he was able to find peace within himself.

As you can see from this episode, clinical psychology approach alone wouldn’t be sufficient to treat this particular condition because the condition itself was detected due to stimulation of the somatic part of the body that was somehow linked to the negative emotional experience of that patient.

The theory.

Actually there is a theory that could explain the phenomenon I described above. In short, this theory states that the negative memories associated with the emotional trauma are stored in the cells of a somatic part that was affected or injured concurrently with that emotional trauma.

I was familiarized with this theory in the days of my master’s program, but back then dismissed it as nonsensical. The assumption that body cells carry emotional memory brings about an array of questions such as: what part of the cell is responsible for memory collection and retrieval, which types of cells delegated such a responsibility: muscle, epidermis, fascia, or all type? More so, considering overall extreme effectiveness of the human body and highly specialized nature of memory collection and retrieval process, how efficient would it be to place such memory mechanism in each of trillions of body cells? However, witnessing the same phenomena in the treatment room time after time over many years I gradually changed my mind.

The conclusion about negative memories being stored and somehow connected with the somatic part seems to naturally flow from the described episode with the boxer and from hundreds of other incidents, description of which could take the entire book. Yet the actual mechanism of cell memory isn’t known. It’s reasonable to assume, that the mechanism of memory collection and retrieval is located not in each body cell, but at the centralized location somewhere in the brain. Since the information about the episode was stored not in the right shoulder but in the brain, the signal sent from the left shoulder eventually accessed some the memory location right-symmetrical to the section stimulated.

At the present time there was no a substantial study that proves the above theory. At the same time there was no study that disproves this theory either. So as far as I am concerned, until a conclusive study is going to be administered, I reserve the right to consider this theory the true one.


As I explained above, the conclusive scientific explanation for a clinical data could come in a future time. Yet it might not significantly change the protocol of addressing the conditions. I was trained and practicing medical and sports massage, that was developed through researches, and most importantly for many, many decades this method was proven to be safe and very effective.

In general biomedical science is not an accurate science. Of course, the science of massage is based on the data produced by the general biomedical science like physiology, anatomy, pathology, and we can explain scientifically the physiological affect of massage, why we perform different techniques in different manners and regimes in specific cases.

At the same time, we shouldn’t neglect inexact science, the gray area. Even though the conclusive theoretical explanation is not discovered yet, we must go by clinical outcomes and evidences like those protocols described in the “Body Cells carry emotional memories” theory section. If this won’t be considered and addressed in an adequate manner as I have explained, it would be very difficult to sustain results in cases of the essential hypertension, tension headaches, sleep disorders, clinical depression, muscular aches, etc. This negative memories are like emotional poison, that have to be removed. Otherwise clients would be in a vicious cycle of changing different medications and still unable to break away from this vicious cycle. ”

What is important in this cases is for a massage therapist to work together with the clinical philologist. Clinical psychologist can work with the patient in bringing the traumatic episode forward. However, simply discovering it and letting it known to the client/patient isn’t enough. The patient has to have multiple sessions with the massage therapist in order to cleanup negative emotion. Only sufficient mobilization of the affected area would make sure that the memory of traumatic episode and the emotional damage caused by it is completely cured.

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