Can massage therapy help with pain?

Can massage therapy help with pain?

Summary: Exciting new discoveries in neuroscience are changing the way we view the pain experience. Pain serves to protect and heal, but can persist if and when the body’s alarm system remains on high alert. Massage therapy and movement can boost safety signals, helping to reduce pain.

What makes a person more prone to developing persistent pain? And why is it the longer pain persists, the less it correlates with actual tissue damage? We now understand that pain is a protective output created by the brain’s interpretation of a multitude of inputs, including: biological, psychological and social information. In short, pain can increase when there are more danger signals than safety signals.

At any given moment, your brain is processing a variety of signals: danger and safety. These can include changes in pressure, temperature, chemical balance, as well as signals created by sight, smell, thoughts, beliefs, emotions, previous experiences, expectations, cultural influences and social interactions.

Pain serves to encourage protecting and healing. But what happens when pain lasts longer than the normal timeframe for tissue healing? This can occur when the body’s alarm system remains on high alert and is stimulated by a lower intensity stimulus. The good news: the brain’s ability to change can allow the nervous system to recalibrate in positive and new directions.

The role of massage therapy and pain reduction

Massage and movement can inhibit the influence of danger signals and boost safety signals within the nervous system. With less danger signals and more safety signals, a person may experience less pain. This means more movement, better sleep and newfound states of feeling good.

At Intent Health Clinic, we employ a variety of approaches to encourage more safety signals and less pain:

  • We provide a quiet, comfortable and predictable treatment space
  • Our treatments and homecare suggestions involve techniques that aim to calm the nervous system
  • We encourage healthy sleep and relaxation practices, as well as graded exposure to movement
  • We provide pain education; studies show that learning about the neurophysiology of pain decreases perceived threat levels to the nervous system which can result in decreased pain levels, and
  • We connect you with resources like the Protectometer App, a useful tool that helps identify potential danger and safety signals, and encourages the novel combination of safe inputs to retrain the nervous system

Adapted from the article: Sharman, Jenn. Reconceptualising Pain. RMT Matters. July 2017 vol. 10 no. 2. pp.14-15.

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