Over the years I have had many clients come in with chronic pain or tension. Prior to seeing me, some clients have sought other remedies (physical therapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture, dry needling, cortisone shots, steroid injections, pain medication and more), with either no results, poor results, negative results, or short-lived improvements. (Of course some clients have reacted positively to these approaches, it just depends on the person and circumstances.)
While it’s clear no remedy can fix all chronic pain or tension problems, many of the sufferers I have treated have benefited from medical massage therapy. Many have seen their pain or muscle tightness reduced or eliminated, including pain that some have experienced for months or years.
At Frederick Massage Therapy, I use a number of techniques that calm an overactive nervous system that may be generating unnecessary pain or tension. When the nervous system is effectively soothed and no longer feels threatened, it relaxes its unconscious hold on your muscles and your pain is lessened or relieved. My approach is designed to be pain-free, uses just the right pressure and incorporates slow strokes, hand-holds and gentle stretching to help you recover.
A Brief Primer on Pain
It may seem self-serving for a massage therapist to say that massage has unique properties that can address chronic pain and tight muscles, but I’m going to explain why I believe that to be the case. To do so, first I will briefly address:
- Where pain comes from
- The benefits of comforting touch
But Pain Comes from Tissue Damage or Structural Imbalance, Right?
Only sometimes … and that sometimes is getting less and less provable by medical researchers.
While tissue damage can certainly equal pain, modern pain science reveals that pain is actually a product of the nervous system, not the tissues themselves. There are plenty of examples that pain doesn’t always correlate to tissue damage. In other words, diagnostics such as X-rays and MRIs may show no tissue damage, and yet pain persists. Conversely, there are also plenty of examples where tissue damage (such as rotator cuff/labrum tears or herniated/ruptured discs) and structural anomalies (such as leg-length discrepancies or scoliosis) often don’t create pain.
A growing body of studies in recent years are demonstrating that, instead of being caused by tissue damage, pain is actually caused by the nervous system—including the brain, spinal cord and nerves.
In a significant number of cases, it’s the reaction of the nervous system to perceived threat that creates pain and tension.
Can You Give Me an Example?
Okay, let me make this simpler. When you prick your finger on a thumbtack or cut it with a knife, it’s not a pain signal that travels to the brain (a common misperception), it’s a possible threat signal that the brain receives. Then:
- The brain looks at what’s happening around you. Were you just handling something sharp? Pain!
- The brain considers your past experiences with pain. Did your parent tell you that getting a shot would be painful and traumatic, and that they hated shots? Or did your parent tell you it would be a momentary prick and that they knew you were tough and could take it? If you were repeatedly set up to expect trauma, you’re more likely to experience pain.
- The brain considers whether you are tired, hungry or stressed. Yes? BAM! You’re the winner of a higher possibility for pain.
Alright, that’s a bit simplified, but you get the idea. The brain generates pain to bring your attention to the threatened area, so that you can hopefully DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
On top of the pain that the nervous system is generating, it also creates TENSION. Why? To guard and protect the area it thinks is under threat from more possibilities of damage.
Think about it. When someone jumps out at you unexpectedly, you recoil and tense up in fright. If someone threatens to tickle you, you recoil and tense up at the “threat” (unless you’re my husband, who claims he’s not ticklish … but he still tenses!). Your nervous system is bracing against possible tissue damage, stiffening your body so it’s more resistant to trauma. That is why Houdini — the escape artist — could challenge people to punch him in the stomach as hard as they could and he remained unhurt. It worked, until that time he accepted a challenger, but hadn’t stiffened his stomach muscles in time to fend off the punch that injured and killed him.
Without going into the nitty gritty here, I’ll also mention that sometimes the brain gets pain wrong, like when it generates phantom limb pain experienced by amputees. Other times the brain doesn’t generate pain when tissue damage actually happens, such as when you’ve discovered a bruise or cut and yet had no idea how you got it.
So Can Medical Massage Help with MY Chronic Pain or Tension?
I can’t know if massage will help your condition until we try it, but let’s consider how massage can calm down the nervous system that is generating your pain and/or tension. Massage works because:
- Being listened to is soothing.
- Safe, slow touch is soothing.
- Warmth is soothing.
- Being in a comfortable position is soothing.
- Gently and comfortably stretching the skin, muscles and joints is soothing.
If your nervous system feels safe, it won’t be sounding the pain and tension alarm, which will allow tissue change to happen in your body, leaving you feeling and functioning better. Depending on the nature of the problem, just one or a few sessions can help reset the nervous system’s hold on your body.
If you give medical massage a try, you should start to see significant improvement in one to three sessions. These include:
- Less frequent pain
- Less intensity of pain
- Less duration of pain
- A smaller area of pain
There’s a really good chance that your discomfort and tension will respond favorably to massage therapy. Consider making an appointment or giving Frederick Massage Therapy a call to discuss your condition:
I look forward to working with you!
10% off your first session!
60 minutes $99 (reg. $110)
90 minutes $130.50 (reg. $145)
120 minutes $166.50 (reg. $185)
In practice since 2006.
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