A lot of times, when we think about getting a massage, we think of it as a luxury or indulgence. A way to treat ourselves during stressful times.
However, it shouldn't have to be this way. Massage should be a part of your pain relief toolbox.
When we hurt, we often instinctively use touch to help soothe our pain. Ever find yourself rubbing your tight shoulders or a sore knee?
A well-placed hand is very powerful.
More and more people are turning to massage as a pain relief method.
Not only does massage help with pain, but also helps calm depression and anxiety symptoms and helps us to sleep better.
Let's answer some questions about massage for pain relief.
Soon enough you will be ready to get up on that massage table and start feeling better.
How does massage relieve pain?
Massage helps relieve pain by a number of different mechanisms.
First and foremost, massage helps increase circulation, which sends fresh, oxygenated blood to the muscles and joints. This increased blood flow helps warm the area to cut down on pain and stiffness. Less stiffness results in better range of motion of an achy joint.
Massage is also thought to fight pain at its source by turning off pain messages to and from the brain. This happens by way of the "gate control theory." In other words, impulses sent to the brain when a painful site is massaged competes with pain impulses traveling to the brain. All of these impulses clog up the nerves therefore many of the pain impulses don't reach the brain. This means less pain.
Getting a massage also triggers the release of some of our feel-good hormones including serotonin and oxytocin.
Serotonin is the body's natural anti-pain chemical. Serotonin also contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness.
Oxytocin is another naturally painkilling hormone which also relaxes the muscles and helps us to feel calm.
Other fun facts about oxytocin, otherwise known as the "love hormone":
- it is released when we hug someone we love
- it is the hormone that is released by a woman during labor which helps to relax the uterus and seal the bond between mother and baby
In addition to pain relief, massage promotes deep, restorative sleep. And we all know that getting a good night's sleep is super helpful for managing chronic pain.
Is massage really effective for pain?
The signs point to yes.
The American Massage Therapy Association is of the position that massage can be effective for a wide range of pain conditions such as chronic pain, growing pains in children, cancer-related pain, headache pain, postoperative pain, lower back pain, pain related to pregnancy, and more.
Scientists are becoming more and more interested in studying the effects of massage on pain, especially chronic pain.
One study compared the effects of massage versus routine physical therapy in women with acute and chronic low back pain. Results showed that those who received massage had significantly better pain intensity and disability scores compared to those who received physical therapy. Despite this, we still totally advocate for physical therapy as a tool for pain.
Massage is also great for arthritis pain. In another study, two groups of adults with neck arthritis pain were compared. The intervention group received weekly massages from a therapist as well as daily self-massages whereas the control group received no intervention. After one month, the intervention group reported significant reductions in pain as well as increased range of motion.
Here's a really interesting one. A study published by the Journal of Physiotherapy looked at the effects of massage on pain during labor. Participants who received a 30-minute lumbar massage during the active phase of labor experienced less pain than women who did not receive massage. Maybe we can ditch the epidurals, birthing tubs, and birthing balls.
How do I find a good therapist?
The key to having a great massage is finding a good therapist who is experienced and knowledgeable. Don't assume that everyone out there doing massages is experienced and fully up to the task.
A good place to start is to ask your doctor, physical therapist, or chiropractor for a recommendation.
There are a couple of membership organizations for massage therapists including the American Massage Therapy Association and Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. You can go to their websites and use their locator tools and find massage therapists near you.
It's important to find a massage therapist who you click with and can build a working relationship with.
Let your therapist know upfront about your chronic pain and the goals you are looking to achieve. The two of you can work together as a team to relieve your pain.
Questions you might want to ask your potential massage therapist:
- How long have you been practicing?
- What is your experience with massage for chronic pain?
- Are you a licensed massage therapist? Note that licensure requirements vary from state to state.
- Are you a member of the American Massage Therapy Association or Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals?
- Where did you train to become a massage therapist?
- Are you Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork? This is sort of a step up beyond normal licensure as the certification requires one to meet the standards of education, training, and experience. This certification is suggestive of advanced skills, abilities, and knowledge.
With these questions, you are trying to decipher whether or not your therapist has the training and experience you need to get the job done. Obviously, we are trying to weed out Joe Schmoe who was trained in someone's basement.
Is there anyone who should not receive massage therapy?
Massage therapy is thought to be generally safe for most people, especially when performed by an experienced professional.
There are some groups of people who should speak to their doctor before getting a massage. For example, if you have:
- Skin infection, sensitive skin, burns, or open wounds
- Broken bones
- Advanced osteoporosis
- Blood clots
Cancer patients should talk to their oncologist for a referral to a massage therapist certified in oncology massage.
Massage is a great therapeutic technique for pain. Not only does it help with pain relief, it also improves your quality of life by helping you sleep better, improving your mood, and just making you feel good all around.
Make sure to find a massage therapist who has their credentials in line, is experienced, and is willing to work with you to achieve your pain relief goals.
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