Few things are as distressing as chronic pain. It saps your energy and takes an emotional toll. Over time, pain can become a vicious cycle with a life of its own, continuing even after the original cause is resolved. Therapeutic massage is a simple, effective, and readily available support measure for dealing with chronic pain.
Understanding the Pain Cycle The pain cycle is a complex chain of events which reinforce each other. It can begin with injury, illness, or even stress, but each element can trigger or amplify another, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.
Muscle tension. Muscle tension from stress, repetitive activity or overuse can be painful. Tense muscles are prone to injury, adding to the problem. Worse, muscles automatically contract around any painful site to support and protect the area. If your original pain is not resolved, muscles may become habitually contracted. In this way, painful muscle tension can spread, even pressing on nerves to cause tingling, numbness, and more pain in new areas.
Reduced circulation. Like a sponge that is squeezed, when a muscle is tight and contracted, it can't hold much fluid so circulation is impaired. Irritating waste products can accumulate, leaving you feeling fatigued and sore. Over time, areas with poor circulation form trigger points in both muscles and their connective tissue coverings, called fascia. Trigger points are highly irritable spots that can refer pain elsewhere in the body. For example, a trigger point in your hip can cause pain down your leg. As muscles tense around referred pain, the cycle spreads.
Restricted movement. Pain and muscle tension can make even simple actions difficult and tiring. This impairs your ability to exercise—your most important means for maintaining mobility and good circulation throughout your body. Eventually, contracted muscles and fasica can develop areas called adhesions, where tissues "adhere" to each other, further restricting movement and contributing to your pain.
Any single element in the pain cycle can trigger a complex chain of events that ultimately leads back to pain.
Breaking the Cycle Massage can break the cycle of pain with its ability to address most of the pain cycle elements.
Massage relieves muscle tension, stretching and kneading tight muscles, and calming the nervous system.
When muscles relax, pressure on nerves is reduced, relieving related pain in distant sites.
As massage relaxes the nervous system, blood vessels dilate to increase circulation. Irritating waste products are flushed away and replaced with healing oxygen and nutrients.
Specific massage techniques release trigger points. Muscle stretching and improved circulation from massage can prevent their return.
Certain techniques increase the pliability of adhesions. Along with reduced muscle tension, this helps prevent new injuries.
Other massage techniques work to improve range of motion in specific areas, further helping to restore normal movement.
Taken together, the many benefits of massage, especially regular massage, can renew your energy and optimism. You may find yourself motivated to move and exercise, helping you maintain the improvements you have made.
Stress, Pain, and Massage With modern stresses such as family conflicts, work deadlines, or money worries, you may never find the time to relieve mounting tension. When you are unable to relax, unrelieved muscle tension and impaired circulation can contribute directly to the pain cycle. To make matters worse, chronic pain is a major source of stress. It may interrupt your sleep, leaving you tired and irritable. It drains you emotionally, robbing you of the patience and stamina you need to cope.
To the extent that massage interrupts the pain cycle, even if temporarily, it reduces stress. Further, massage acts on the nervous system to relax both body and mind. You may sleep better after a massage, which helps the body heal and renews your reserves. Massage also helps you become aware of unconsciously held tension, so you can take steps to release it on your own. Finally, allowing someone to care for you with a relaxing massage can support you emotionally in a time of stress.
What Else Should You Do? If you are in severe or persistent pain, it is important to consult your primary care provider and inform him or her that you are receiving massage. Always keep me updated on your medical condition as well. I may recommend other supportive measures including rest, exercise, and good nutrition. Stress counseling and relaxation techniques such as biofeedback, meditation, or yoga can also bring relief and help you feel better.
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