Pain is weird, complex and yet simple. I geek out with pain science. As soon as I think I understand it I read something new and feel a little lost again. I remember my frustration with chronic pain and the lack of information the professionals had to offer. So I wrote down some of what I learned and how massage may help. Remember I am no scientist, no researcher just a little ol’ MT trying to help 😉 There is a lot of research out there. This is just touching on the basics.
What is pain?
Pain is produced in the brain. The pain you are experiencing is due to nerve tissue in your body sending a signal to your brain. This signal is received and your brain makes a decision about whether it will be painful or not. Pain doesn’t always reflect damage. The brain can cause pain in the absence of tissue damage. With chronic pain the brain is still producing pain even after tissue damage is healed. To treat chronic pain you must retrain the brain and the nervous system. You must look at what effects pain.
What effects pain?
Thoughts, emotions, common beliefs (for example: disc degeneration being the cause of pain) and lack of sleep all affect pain. Working on reducing emotional stress is one way of treating chronic pain. You also need to look at what was happening when the pain started. What was going on in your life (stresses).
Our lifestyle also affects pain. Things like a poor diet of eating too many processed foods, being overweight, a lack of exercise, daily living activities such as desk jobs, manual labor, and repetitive movements all play a part in our pain. Getting rid of bad habits by quitting smoking, increasing daily exercise, losing weight and creating new healthy habits help. Get started moving comfortably, without fear to where the brain is not protecting itself with pain.
Relieving and reducing your pain is mostly about reducing the signals going up to your brain.
How does massage help with chronic pain?
- Massage is a proven stress reducer. Stress is a strong component of chronic pain.
- Massage will help reduce the tension in the painful areas. “When nerve tissue is under this strain, the small blood vessels that deliver blood to it are pinched. This reduces the blood flow to the tissue. Resolving this pain involves reducing the strain and restoring the normal blood flow. Without a regular blood supply, the tissue will remain irritated and painful.”
- Massage helps improve sleep patterns. Poor sleep is a component of pain.
- Massage can help improve joint movement with stretching; active and passive range of motion. For pain free movements.
One example of chronic pain pattern.
Unless pain is acute (such as a recent injury) it generally is not caused by an event. There is a process- something that has been building up. Our habits dictate our patterns, our patterns create areas of tension, tension restricts blood flow, restricted blood flow causes nerves to send signals to the brain, the brain perceiving possible danger sends pain signals to the tissues.
Think of someone sitting at a desk for years. This has caused a hunching and rounded upper back. Our patterns create areas of tension and a new “normal” (hunched posture even while standing). This normal can create a pain issue, or a neuromuscular pain pattern.
The focus of integrated therapeutic massage therapy is to disrupt the pain pattern and reduce tension allowing an increase in blood flow to the nerves and local tissues. When we disrupt the pain patterns and habits we can teach our bodies to recognize when we need to move to release tensions. To know what “good” feels like, we then become more aware of being uncomfortable sooner and then we can consciously relax those tense areas and prevent poor habits that cause those pain patterns.
This is all a process. It won’t be changed in one appointment. Just like losing weight or exercise. It takes time to make changes. The tense area did not happen overnight, even though it may seem like that, it took time to get to that point it will take time for it to feel better.
** You take the same road to get home every day (neuromuscular pattern), in the winter potholes form on the roads (hunching at your desk creates a pain pattern). The potholes are annoying to you and your car (brain perceives danger = painful neuromuscular pathway). After winter the road crews come out and fix and repave the roads (massage and changes in movement). Now it is a pleasant trip home (new neuromuscular pathway).**