Chronic Pain Massage
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 persisiting even after the original cause is resolved.
Massage is one of the most overlooked, yet accessible supportive measures you can seek for chronic pain.
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. Massage is unique in addressing most of the pain cycle elements.
You perceive pain when your body releases chemicals that stimulate nerves to send pain massages to the brain. These are difficult - and dangerous - to ignore.
Always look for and seek to treat the root cause of your pain. At the same time, you can use massage to directly affect how your 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.
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.
Like a sponge that is squeezed, a contracted muscle can't hold much fluid. Tight muscles reduce circulation, allowing waste products from inflammation and from 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, a 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 from trigger points in both muscles and their connective tissue coverings, called fascia. Trigger points are highly irritable spots that refer pain, tingling or othe rsensations elsewhere in the body, usually in a predictable pattern. As muscles tense around referred pain, the pain cycle spreads.
Trigger points respond will to standard massage techiques such as sustained pressure, ice, massage, and muscle stretching.
In any area with chronically poor circulation, the body eventually lays down collagen fibers, which are building blocks of scar tissue. While helpful for healing injuries, this natural reaction can "glue" muscles and fascia into a shortened state.
Massage increases circulation, rehydrating and softening contracted fascia, so it can be lengthened by stretching and kneading. Massage can also separate muscle and fascia fibers that collagen has adhered together.
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.