Few things are as distressing as chronic pain. It saps your energy and takes an emotional toll. Over time, pain can become a vicious cycle with a life of its own, sometimes persisting even after the original cause is resolved. Massage is one of the most overlooked, yet accessible supportive measures you can seek for pain management. Almost every culture uses some form of mechanical pressure or bodywork to relieve pain. Stretching an aching back, or rubbing a bruised knee is almost instinctual. Some Massage Therapists specialize in working with chronic pain issues, such as Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Bursitis, or the many other disorders that cause people to engage the pain management system. Understandably, this focus demands that the Massage Therapist has extra training, and knows about the disorder, the standard treatments, and how to best serve the afflicted. Many of the disorders that cause chronic pain can also be aggravated by the wrong treatments, some even entering a “flare” stage. It is very important that the chronic pain sufferer understand not only the disorder and how to treat it, but the basics of pain itself.
The Pain Cycle
The pain cycle is a complex chain of events, which reinforce each other. It often begins with injury or illness, but each element, especially stress, can add to or even start the cycle. The good thing about massage is that it can interrupt the pain cycle at any point, which can cause it to reset, or totally dissipate.
Pain – You perceive pain when your body releases chemicals that stimulate nerves to send pain messages to the brain. These are difficult, and dangerous, to ignore. Always look for and treat the cause of your pain. At the same time, you can use massage to directly affect how you experience chronic, persistent pain. Research suggests that massage stimulates release of natural pain-relievers such as endorphins. It can also reduce the devastating grip of pain as you focus on the pleasant sensation of relaxation.
Muscle Tension – Muscles automatically contract around any painful site to support and protect the area. If pain is resolved quickly, muscles relax. If pain persists, muscles can become habitually contracted. Sometimes contractions press on nerves causing tingling, numbness, and more pain. Massage helps by stretching tight muscles and by stimulating the nervous system to relax muscle tension.
Reduced Circulation – Like a sponge that is squeezed, a contracted muscle can’t hold much fluid. Tight muscles reduce circulation, allowing waste products from inflammation and normal muscle function to accumulate. This can leave you feeling fatigued and sore, reducing your energy reserves. It can also irritate nerves, causing pain to spread throughout the tense area.
Massage releases contracted muscles and pushes circulation toward the heart. Also, as massage relaxes the nervous system, blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow. Waste products are flushed away and replaced with healing oxygen and nutrients.
Over time, areas with poor circulation form trigger points -highly irritable spots that refer pain, tingling or other sensations elsewhere in the body, usually in a predictable pattern. As muscles tense around referred pain, the pain cycle spreads. Trigger points respond well to standard massage techniques such as sustained pressure, ice massage, and muscle stretching.
Eventually, the body lays down connective tissue throughout any contracted area with poor circulation. While helpful for healing injuries, this natural reaction can “glue” muscles and their connective tissue coverings into a shortened state. Massage increases circulation, rehydration, and softening connective tissue so it can be lengthened by stretching and kneading.
Irritating waste products, painful trigger points, and shortened muscles make even simple actions difficult and tiring. As your capacity for movement and exercise decreases, you lose the most important means for maintaining good circulation throughout your body, risking pain in new areas. Massage helps restore normal movement by releasing trigger points, removing waste products, and stretching shortened muscles. In addition, because you feel better after a massage, you may discover renewed energy and motivation for physical activity.
Stress and Pain
Our physical reactions to stress reflect how we evolved in prehistoric times. Muscles tense for action and circulation decreases to areas not needed to fight or run. This helped cavemen survive the saber-toothed tiger, but unfortunately does not help with modern stresses such as family conflicts, work deadlines, or money worries. When stress is unrelieved, our bodies tense further into an anxious, irritable posture. Stress induced muscle tension and impaired circulation can and do contribute directly to the pain cycle.
To make matters worse, chronic pain itself is a major source of stress. It drains you emotionally; robbing you of the patience and stamina you need just to get through a day. It interrupts your sleep, leaving you tired and irritable. You worry about its cause and if you will ever get better. As pain makes normal activity difficult, your anxiety increases. Will you be able to keep working? Where will you get the money for treatment? Will you become dependent on others? This is where a pain management plan comes into play, and the massage therapists at Phoenixville Massage & Bodywork have the education and experience to help you manage your pain.
Massage and Stress
Massageacts on the nervous system to counteract the body’s response to stress, relaxing muscle tension and allowing heart rate, blood pressure and circulation to return toward normal. Many people sleep better after a massage, which helps the body heal and renews emotional reserves. To the extent massage relieves pain, even temporarily, it reduces stress by giving you some control over your situation. A massage also helps you become aware of unconsciously held tension, and how it feels to relax. This helps you recognize and release tension later, before it creates a problem. Finally, allowing someone else to give you the care and comfort of a relaxing massage can give you much needed emotional support in a time of stress.
How much massage is right?
This depends on your general health, when the pain started and what caused it. For long-term benefits you usually need a series of massages. Follow-up massage in times of stress can help keep old pain from flaring up. You may find massage so beneficial that you make it a regular part of your life.
What else should you do?
Always seek medical advice for pain management since it can indicate a serious health condition. Also, because massage is not appropriate for all conditions, let your primary care practitioner know you are receiving massage, and always inform your massage therapist about any medical problems. Also, massage can relieve chronic pain on many levels, but often works best with other supportive measures. Rest, exercise, nutrition, and appropriate medication can all help you feel better. Stress counseling and relaxation techniques such as biofeedback or meditation can also give significant relief. The choice is yours – Phoenixville Massage & Bodywork is in your corner in the fight to manage your pain.