Massage therapy works a number of ways to decrease pain. Firstly, by activating the pain-gating system1. Nerves are like a one-way street, they can only pass one message at a time. This means that during a massage, the large nerve fibres in the skin are activated, switching off the transmission of pain messages.
The second mechanism is the activation of the Relaxation Response, which is the body’s ability to decrease the psychophysiological response of stress1. The Relaxation Response helps to create calm, helps the body to rest, decreases blood pressure, decreases the heart rate, decreases the output of stress hormones and decreases muscular tension. This calming of the central nervous system results in a decrease in the sensitization of the pain receptors, which decreases the sensation of pain.
Thirdly, when muscles are in a state of spasm, which often occurs with any pain, the connective tissue within the muscle becomes taut, and is then subjected to decreased circulation, decreased nutrients and becomes hyperirritable, often creating myofascial trigger points (muscle knots). These myofascial trigger points become a secondary source of pain. Myofascial release (trigger point massage) involves manual pressure of the trigger point with prolonged stretching to break up these fascial adhesions, increase circulation, increase the flexibility of the muscle and importantly causes a release of endogenous opiates – your body’s natural pain killers2.
Massage doesn’t just feel good, it helps to decrease your pain, improves your relaxation and decreases your stress response – leaving you feeling happy and like you’re walking on a cloud.
1. Adams R, White B, Beckett C 2010, ‘The Effects of Massage Therapy on Pain Management in the Acute Care Setting’ Int J Ther Massage Bodywork, vol 3, no 1, pp 4-11.
2. Altindag and Ozaslan, 2014, ‘Efficacy of Myofascial Release Method on Pain and Disease Severity in Patients with Fibromyalgia’ J Pain Relief, vol 3, no 5.
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