Will Massage Help Me with My Pain?

Therapist performing massage on client's lower left leg on table

Helping people to feel better, to move more easily, and to lower their stress & anxiety is what Quiet Strength Massage Therapy is all about. And some of my clients say that they’ve been experiencing tension and soreness for years. So, is massage therapy a helpful option for mitigating your muscle & joint pain?

When a client gets up from the massage table and tells me that their headache is gone, or their shoulders are loosened up, or their back feels so much better than when they walked in – that’s the best news of the day!

What do we really know about pain?

Pain is one of those “you know it when you feel it” sensations. But it’s also a curious phenomenon, when you think about it.

A snowball is cold, and so it feels cold when you touch it. A block of concrete is rough, so it feels rough when you touch it. But a knife isn’t painful on its own. Neither is a pot of boiling water or the leg of a table. We handle these things safely all the time, and experience their mass and temperature and texture.

But pain is a sensation in the body – specifically, in our minds. So what is happening when we feel pain?

How does pain work?

There are three primary types of pain, and each of them works a slightly different way.

Nociceptive pain (tissue pain)

There are many different kinds of sense receptors in the body. Some are sensitive to heat or cold… some, to touch or pressure. Others, called free nerve endings, aren’t specialized for any one type of stimulus. When a significant stimulus triggers these nerve endings, they send a message through the spinal cord and up to the brain. The brain then decides (without conscious thought) whether this is something to ignore, or if damage has occurred. Then your brain returns a message to the affected part of your body.

If the message is “No biggie, ‘tis but a scratch,” then you’ll most likely shake yourself off and forget the incident even happened. If it’s “Whoa! This feels like a problem,” then you experience this as pain.

This can be useful! Pain can alert us to a small problem before it progresses to a major disruption. Pain stops us from trying to walk on a sprained ankle, holding our marshmallow fork too close to a campfire, or going for a run when we have a fever.

Neuropathic pain (nerve pain)

This is pain that results from an issue with the nervous system itself, rather than surrounding tissues. If you’ve ever bumped your funny bone into a doorframe, you know all about that. Common forms of neuropathic pain include:

Some less common forms of neuropathic pain include phantom limb pain (which feels like it originates in an amputated limb) and postherpetic neuralgia (which can be a result of a shingles infection).

Neuropathic pain can be a frustrating experience. That’s because the normal things we do to reduce soreness are frequently ineffective at mitigating pain which originates in the nervous system. Rest/movement, or applying ice/heat, may have little impact on nerve pain.

What’s more, nerves may not heal as well as muscles and skin do, which can cause nerve pain to become chronic.

Other pain. (Yeah, we need a better name for that category)

Pain is messy, and a lot of it doesn’t fit either of the two categories above. Fibromyalgia is a common example.

Is fibromyalgia pain resulting from tissue damage? Nope. What about nerve damage? Not as far as we can tell. It’s caused by the nervous system malfunctioning, and can be debilitating, but may not present with nerve damage. And the world of medicine is still trying to figure out why.

So how do we alleviate pain?

There are several different options.

  • If the painful sensation is caused by some kind of physical injury or stimulus, you can respond.
    If your hand is being burned on a lightbulb, you’ll instinctively let go. If you’re experiencing a muscle cramp in your foot, you can flex the foot (manually, if necessary).

    If you’re experiencing tension from sitting in the same position for too long, you can move around and shake it out. If the cause of your discomfort is inflammation, anti-inflammatories and ice may be helpful.
  • You can block the messages that tell your brain you’re in pain. This is how many medications work. Ice can also numb nerve endings.
  • You can convince your brain that you’re not in any real danger. This is a tough one, because the brain doesn’t just listen when you tell it things. But it’s well documented that fear, stress, or anxiety can lead to increased pain perception. And that adds to your stress, which in turn can give you muscle tension.

    General relaxation techniques (such as meditation/mindfulness, exercise, or getting a massage) can help to shift your nervous system’s pain alarms down a notch. Physical therapy, yoga, or mental health counseling can also be beneficial.

How can massage help with pain?

Sometimes chronic or acute tension is something that massage can help you to manage on a physical level. But even more often, massage gives your brain a chance to let down its guard and your muscles can feel something non-painful and even pleasant.

And while there’s no silver bullet for soreness or discomfort, my clients say that getting a massage definitely benefits them!

So, contact me today and schedule a massage that is customized to help you feel better.