Massage therapy can ease chronic pain when the right technique is artfully executed by a perceptive, skilled therapist. It promotes relaxation, relieves tension, and increases blood and oxygen flow to muscles for healing. It also promotes the release of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, and improves sleep, something often in short supply for those of us living with persistent pain.
We unconsciously change posture in an effort to find comfort, we tighten and hold muscles in response to pain, and our chronic pain source, like myofascial pain syndrome or joint hypermobility, can have an effect on our muscles and joints too. We could use some help to minimize the effects of these actions.
The goal of massage therapy is to:
- Relax muscles.
- Improve joint range of motion.
- Improve overall body function.
- Promote feelings of well-being.
- Ease pain.
Types of massage
Chronic pain, the cause, and the way we react to it are as individualistic as are the types of massage. What helps one person might aggravate pain in someone else. So, it’s good to know there are many different types of massage or other bodywork, such as:
- Swedish – using different techniques, Swedish massage focuses on relaxation of cramped muscles.
- Deep tissue – is a type of massage that releases restrictive tissue and scarring that develops from injury and leads to musculoskeletal pain. You will probably be sore after, but don’t confuse that with unbearable pain. Keep in mind that too much of this type can cause further muscle tension and could lead to more injury.
- Trigger point – the goal of trigger point massage is to release the trigger point within a tight muscle. If myofascial pain syndrome is present, as seen in many chronic pain disorders, i.e., fibromyalgia, migraine, spinal degeneration, interstitial cystitis, irritable bladder, arthritic joints, post surgical scaring, etc., a specialized myofascial trigger point therapist is imperative.
- Myofascial release – targets the thin layer of connective tissue (fascia) that covers and connects all the muscles in the body. Releasing myofascial restrictions focuses on wellness for the body as a whole.
- Craniosacral massage – is a light touch therapy that prompts proper movement of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and spinal cord. A therapist’s trained hands can feel restrictions, detect imbalances, and manipulate the affected area.
- Self-massage – is specific and individualistic. With guidance, consistent therapy often improves outcome, so don’t be surprised if your therapist gives you homework.
Other massage techniques include Rolfing, spray and stretch, Shiatsu, Hellerwork, acupressure, Alexander Technique, Rosen Method, and more.
The right therapist
A good therapist can help us keep all our body parts in motion with the least amount of stress. This takes a therapist that is qualified to do the type of massage or bodywork that helps reduce the pain we experience.
Factors we can look for in a qualified massage therapist:
- Licensing in their state of practice. Most states require specific standards of performance.
- Membership in the American Massage Therapy Association.
- Certification by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.
- Be a graduate or student of a school accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation.
- Advanced training for their specialty, such as lymphatic massage for lymphedema.
- Be a member of a peer-reviewed organization. For instance, when looking for an advanced trained trigger point therapist, it’s helpful to know they are or have been a member the National Association of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists.
Muscles that are overused or used incorrectly can become shortened and bound to other tissues in the body. These adhesions cause weak muscles and restriction of joint movement (including the spine), and can compress or trap nerves, contributing to our pain. Not all styles of massage are good for all types of pain, but they all have the same goal — to keep all body parts in motion with the least amount of tension.
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Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through her website CelesteCooper.com, Twitter @FibroCFSWarrior, or follow her Facebook page.