Many people today suffer with chronic pain and have tried many modalities to rid themselves of this suffering. I have noticed more and more clients coming in for massage who have tried “everything else” for pain relief. Many people think of massage as something luxurious or pampering. However, massage can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain from overuse, trauma, fibromyalgia, arthritis and terminal illness.
Massage can reduce pain in a number of different ways. One way includes addressing the pain cycle. This cycle begins with extended muscle contraction due to strain on the muscles. This, in turn, causes a lack of blood flow. The lack of blood flow causes pain and reduces the amount of oxygen available to the muscles. Receiving a massage treatment will stimulate blood flow, reduce the muscle contractions and improve range of motion so that muscles don’t start to contract (spasm) again. Pain reduction can also be achieved by reducing the amount of fibrosis and adhesion in muscle tissue and alleviating trigger points. Trigger points are painful spots located within “tight” muscles that cause a shortening of the affected muscle.
Another cause of pain in the body is fascial restrictions. Fascia is a connective tissue layer between the muscles and the skin that is located throughout the body. In its natural state, it is a thin fluid. However, when extra strain is placed on the body from incorrect posture, the fascia resembles more of a gel consistency, making it more restricted, inflexible and stiff. Having restricted fascia in the shoulder can cause pain in the shoulder, neck and back.
Swedish massage, the traditional massage, increases blood flow, flexibility and length of muscles. Benefits include flushing out toxins, creating more oxygen for the muscle and softening the superficial fascia. A Swedish treatment usually involves some gentle stretching to increase range of motion and create more length within the muscle. Having length in a muscle simply means it does not get as “tight” and pulls less on the places where the muscle attaches. Adhesions are loosened with a pressure based on the client’s pain tolerance and preference. Swedish massage is generally considered a relaxing type of massage, while still delivering a significant amount of treatment for your muscles.
Deep tissue massage involves a variety of different techniques, and each therapist performs it a little differently. Two of the basic techniques involved in this treatment include connective tissue work and trigger point release. Connective tissue work is performed to release the restrictions in both levels of the fascia, superficial and deep. A light amount of lubricant is used, since the fascia is located above the muscles. The pressure is not as much downward as it is side-to-side, smoothing out the fascia. TP release focuses on certain points within muscles that pull on the areas where the muscle attaches. An example is your rhomboid muscles, which are commonly tight, are located on your upper back, and attach from the spine to the shoulder. If you were to have a trigger point in that muscle, it would pull on your shoulder and back, causing much discomfort. In addition, TPs frequently sit on top of nerves, causing even more pain. To release them, pressure is applied for a few seconds at a time while the client breathes deeply.
The modality of massage performed for chronic pain depends on the client, the goal and the cause of the pain. The style of massage can be discussed with your therapist at the time of your visit. You can talk to your massage therapist freely if you have any questions, concerns or interests so that your treatment is tailored to you.
by Angelina Breen