Massage Therapy for Pain Relief
The experience of pain can be influenced by emotional state, stress, culture, past experiences, learned behaviors, motivation, depression, anxiety, and injury. One of our main goals as massage therapists is to help you identify where your pain is coming from and help reduce pain so that you can live without pain and discomfort. Many of us don’t know how much pain we are in on a daily basis until we experience relief from some of that pain. Pain affects all aspects of our daily life including our ability to heal, how we sleep, our interactions with others, our perception of the world around us, what we eat, how we exercise, how we feel about our selves, our work performance, and our abilities to complete our daily activities. Massage can reduce your experience of pain, which can lead to a higher quality of life and increase your ability to heal. It is an amazing and wonderful thing to live without pain!
How Does Massage Relieve Pain?
- Decrease Stress: Our bodies hold stress in a variety of places, which are usually painful/tender. By massaging these areas we are releasing the stress, which decreases pain. By decreasing the feeling and symptoms of stress, massage allows the body to relax and decrease pain caused by stress. For example, stress tension headaches are often caused by tight muscles in the neck, shoulders and face. By decreasing the tension in these muscles massage helps to decrease the frequency and severity of stress tension headaches.
- Reduction of Muscle Pain: massage can reduce pain by improving tissue flexibility, increasing range of motion, and reducing muscle tension, spasms, cramps, tender points, and trigger points. For more information on what these are visit our web page: What are Knots?
- Increase Sleep: by relaxing the body, massage can lead to increased sleep, which allows the body to rest and recover from injuries, stress, and fatigue.
- Endorphin Release: Massage releases endorphins, which are a pain reducing neurochemical
- Injury Recovery: Massage can decrease the time it takes for the body to recover from an injury by relaxing the muscles, decreasing the formation of adhesions and scar tissue, and decreasing inflammation. When a muscle is injured the body responds by trying to protect the injured muscle. For example, the natural response to twisting an ankle is to try to stay off the injured ankle, tightening all surrounding muscles to keep the ankle stable, and to guard the injured ankle to prevent movement. The bodies responds by swelling in the injured area and surrounding areas in it’s attempt to bring nutrients to the injured area. The tense swollen tissues eventually leads to the reduction of blood flow to the area, causing a build-up of metabolic wastes, which leads to more pain and a longer healing time. By reducing inflammation through ice and/or manual lymphatic drainage more nutrients are able to get to the injured tissue and the injury is healed faster. Massage can also relax the muscles surrounding the injury, which helps to decrease over all pain and allows nutrients to move through the muscles to the injured site allowing the body to heal.
- Gate Control Theory of Pain: Massage can override pain receptors in the muscles, which decreases the feeling of pain. When an injury occurs pain messages travel from nerve endings in damaged tissue through the peripheral nerves to “gates” at the spinal cord and up to the brain where the message is interpreted as pain. The speed of nerve transmission is affected by the diameter of the nerve. Sensory nerves for pressure, temperature and sharp acute pain are in large concentrations near the body’s surface and have a large diameter, which allows quick transmission of a pain message to the brain so that we can protect ourselves from injury. The sensory receptors for aching or chronic pain are in the deeper tissues and are shorter and thinner then those near the bodies surface. These nerves transmit signals at a slower speed because they are stimulated by a chronic condition rather than an immediate threat. The purpose of these deep slow nerves are to let you know that a problem exists so you can prevent further injury. Nerve impulses from large and small diameter nerves may go through the same “gate” at the spinal cord and compete for transmission to the brain, so that only one message may make it to the brain and the other is blocked.
- The role massage plays in the gate control theory of pain relief is that if there is chronic pain in a muscle that is sending messages to the brain through the slow thin nerves the pain message can be blocked by stimulating the larger outer nerves through massaging and applying pressure to the area. One example of this is if a runner experiences pain and soreness in the left calf muscle she can stop and apply pressure to the area, which sends sensory input along the fast large nerves to the spinal “gate” where it closes the “gate” and blocks the slower deeper pain sensation from the sore calf muscle. Massage, heat, and especially ice can all be effective ways to close the “gate” at the spinal cord and decrease the sensation of pain.