Imagine that a person goes to visit a massage therapist once a week, like clockwork, for years. This person is not an athlete, and they haven’t won a lifetime supply of free massage sessions. They are, as far as one can tell, a perfectly ordinary person.
Why, then, this seeming indulgence? Perhaps because it is not an indulgence at all, but a
This might perhaps be surprising, but more and more people are turning to massage therapy to deal with chronic pain. In much the same way that an ordinary person might see a practitioner of massage to work out some tension in the neck, sufferers of chronic pain syndromes can benefit from regular intervention in the form of medical massage.
Living With Chronic Pain
It can be difficult for a person without a chronic condition to imagine, but try to envision a life of constant pain. Take a day where you woke up with a stiff neck or a Charlie-horse, or were recovering from some injury or strenuous activity and felt it all over your body. Now imagine that every day is like that.
Imagine that constant pain makes sleep difficult, and that your options are usually limited to medication – which can be habit forming – or opting to “grin and bear it,” which will leave you tired and even less able to cope with the insistent aches and pains.
Add a healthy dose of depression and anxiety, and you’re getting a glimpse of life with chronic pain, particularly that suffered by patients with illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic myofascial pain syndrome (CMPS), and varying types of arthritis. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you or a loved one suffer from these chronic illnesses?
While the root causes of many chronic pain disorders are regrettably unclear, researchers and medical professionals are gaining insights into the ways that massage therapy can have a direct positive impact on the quality of life of individuals struggling with those disorders.
Let’s take a moment to look at fibromyalgia and CMPS, as they are well understood and common pain syndromes. Symptoms can (and often do) include headaches, migraines, numbness, joint stiffness, back pain, neck pain, exhaustion, deep aching trigger points, and nerve tingling.
Side effects that often go untreated in chronic pain disorders are stress, anxiety, and depression. Patients often report feeling as if their condition has trapped them in a rut, unable to live their life to the fullest. They feel they cannot make plans with friends or family, because their condition might flare up and prevent them. They worry about job performance or taking too many sick days. They feel they are letting those around them down every time their pain stops them from participating in something.
These stressors only compound the problem, because when we are stressed, our bodies deal poorly with our existing pain. Furthermore, we sleep less, and our bodies produce less serotonin, meaning we feel our pains more. That, in turn, raises our anxiety and further worsens our mood. It’s a vicious cycle, and many patients have reported feeling helpless against it.
When treating chronic pain, it is crucial to consider more than the base symptoms. It is important to adopt a more thorough approach, and to consider alternative treatment modalities when those modalities have proven themselves.
In the case of massage therapy, the benefits are very well documented. In this article, we will attest to some of them, and how they can impact patients suffering from any number of chronic pain disorders.
Medical Massage Therapy Can Help Manage Pain
First, we will begin with a brief discussion on medical massage. Massage therapy is, loosely defined, palpitation, and treatment through touch and pressure. As such, it is a therapeutic treatment, what is often considered a complementary medicine – though it’s use as the primary or sole treatment is growing.
Medical massage is often defined further, to specify massage that is prescribed or deemed medically necessary. It isn’t one specific treatment method, but many advanced techniques, and can include neuromuscular therapy, myofascial release, therapeutic stretching, trigger point therapy, and lymphatic drainage, among other modalities.
Medical Massage can be applied by licensed massage therapists, or even by mechanical devices, and it can be applied locally or to the entire body. As a blanket term, massage therapy can cover many types of treatments, from Shiatsu to Swedish, hot stone to reflexology and craniosacral therapy.
As research studies grow in number, the consistency and availability of empirical data supporting the use of medical massage likewise grows. Many studies have focused on single conditions – fibromyalgia and arthritis, for instance, have been studied at length – but emerging data shows clearly that medical massage can have measurable positive impacts on sufferers of nearly any chronic pain condition. The important thing is establishing a meaningful partnership between patient and care provider to determine precisely how best to apply the therapy.
How exactly does medical massage work? Also, what conditions are helped most by medical massage? We will be discussing this and more in Part 2 of “The Benefits for Chronic Pain Sufferers”.