Chronic Pain and Massage

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ew 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, continuing even after the original cause is resolved. The good news is, therapeutic massage is a simple, effective and readily available support measure for dealing with chronic pain.

Understanding the pain Cycle

The pain cycle is a complex chain of events which reinforce each other. It can begin with injury, illness or even stress, but each element can trigger or amplify another, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

Muscle tension

Muscle tension from stress, repetitive activity or overuse can be painful. Tense muscles are prone to injury, adding to the problem. Worse, muscles automatically contract around any painful site to support and protect the area. If your original pain is not resolved, muscles may become habitually contracted. In this way, painful muscle tension can spread, even pressing on nerves to cause tingling, numbness and more pain in new areas.

Tight muscles suffer from reduced circulation…

Reduced circulation

Like a sponge that is squeezed, a contracted muscle can’t hold much fluid. This means tight muscles suffer from reduced circulation. Irritating waste products can accumulate, leaving you feeling fatigued and sore. Over time, areas with poor circulation form trigger points in both muscles and their connective tissue coverings, called fascia. Trigger points are highly irritable spots that can refer pain elsewhere in the body. For example, a trigger point in your hip can cause pain down your leg. As muscles tense around referred pain, the cycle spreads.

Restricted movement

Pain and muscle tension can make even simple actions difficult and tiring. This impairs your ability to exercise-your most important means for maintaining mobility and good circulation throughout your body. Eventually, contracted muscles and fascia can develop areas called adhesions, where tissues “adhere” to each other, further restricting movement and contributing to your pain.

Breaking the Cycle

Massage can break the cycle of pain with its ability to address most of the pain cycle elements.

  • Massage relieves muscle tension, stretching and kneading tight muscles and calming the nervous system.
  • When muscles relax, pressure on nerves is reduced, relieving related pain in distant sites.
  • When muscles relax, pressure on nerves is reduced, relieving related pain in distant sites.
  • As massage relaxes the nervous system, blood vessels dilate to increase circulation. Irritating waste products are flushed away and replaced with healing oxygen and nutrients.
  • Specific massage techniques release trigger points. Muscle stretching and improved circulation from massage can prevent their return.
  • Certain techniques increase the pliability of adhesions. Along with reduced muscle tension, this helps prevent new injuries.
  • Other massage techniques work to improve range of motion in specific areas, further helping to restore normal movement.

Taken together, the many benefits of massage, especially regular massage, can renew your energy and optimism. You may find yourself motivated to move and exercise, helping you maintain the improvements you have made.

Stress, pain and massage

With modern stresses such as family conflicts, work deadlines or money worries, you may never find the time to relieve mounting tension. When you are unable to relax, unrelieved muscle tension and impaired circulation can contribute directly to the pain cycle. To make matters worse, chronic pain is a major source of stress. It may interrupt your sleep, leaving you tired and irritable. It drains you emotionally, robbing you of the patience and stamina you need to cope.

Chronic pain is a major source of stress…

To the extent that massage interrupts the pain cycle, even temporarily, it reduces stress. Further, massage acts on the nervous system to relax both body and mind. You may sleep better after a massage which helps the body heal and renews your reserves. Massage also helps you become aware of unconsciously held tension, so you can take steps to release it on your own. Finally, allowing someone to care for you with a relaxing massage can support you emotionally in a time of stress.

What else should you do?

If you are in severe or persistent pain, it is important to consult your primary care provider and inform him or her that you are receiving massage. Always keep your massage therapist updated on your medical condition as well. Your therapist may recommend other supportive measures including rest, exercise, and good nutrition. Stress counseling and relaxation techniques such as biofeedback, meditation or yoga can also bring relief and help you feel better.

Long-term relief with massage

Massage therapy can help you relax and feel better while effectively addressing many elements of your pain. The effects of massage are cumulative, and for the best results you may wish to receive a series of massages. In addition, follow-up massage in times of stress can help keep old pain from flaring up. In fact, you may find massage so beneficial and pleasurable that you make it a regular part of your life.

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