If you envision massage therapy as a relaxing, indulgent day at the spa, you’re not wrong. But, if you also see massage therapy for chronic pain as part of a comprehensive treatment protocol, you’re also correct. Here’s how it can help.
What are the benefits of massage?
Massage therapy is a form of soft-tissue manipulation. There are different types of massage therapy, but in general, they all focus on the same outcomes, including:
- Relieving muscular tension
- Decreasing stress
- Decreasing anxiety
- Reducing muscle soreness
Getting regular massages may also help with many medical conditions, including:
- Pain conditions
- Sports-related soreness
- Traumatic injury
- Labor pain
- Cancer pain
- Muscle spasms
- Chronic muscle tension
Massage may also stimulate your brain to release natural painkillers called endorphins. Massage can increase your immune system’s functioning as well.
How can massage for chronic pain help me?
Massage for chronic pain works on a number of different levels, only one of which is to release tense muscles.
Various massage techniques help to increase the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) while decreasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). People in pain may live most often with the effects of an elevated SNS: increased heart rate and blood pressure. This activity often occurs with emotional and physical stress. Massage for chronic pain helps to bring your PNS back online. It can slow the heart rate and lower the blood pressure while increasing bowel motility.
Although there is conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of massage for chronic pain, one of the strongest arguments for it is that massage feels good and promotes a feeling of relaxation and well-being.
Some of the most promising findings include:
- A particular type of touch (Intentional Touch) on seniors with chronic found pain relief, relaxation, and increased well-being
- Massage lowers levels of cortisol and norepinephrine (stress hormones) and decreases blood pressure
- Therapeutic touch decreases depression symptoms and provides pain relief
- Being touched while in pain or receiving potentially painful treatments can reduce pain
- Massage increases levels of oxytocin, a natural hormone that promotes bonding and well-being
Therapeutic massage stimulates blood flow to painful areas, which speeds healing, but on the most elemental level it also provides comforting, therapeutic touch.
In contrast to other pain management tools, massage simply feels good. Patients may not feel the same dread and increase in their stress levels going for massage as they do for an injection or physical therapy session. While both tools may be essential in managing pain, massage therapy for chronic pain provides a level of calm that other treatments may not.