Massage Therapy Can Treat Chronic Pain Conditions
Updated: Jan 27
We all experience physical pain at some point in our lives. Whether we break our arm on the playground as a child or pull a muscle in bed stretching as an adult, pain affects us all at one time or another. Chronic pain is far different and can be categorized as pain that lasts for several months or persists after an injury has healed. A 2008 Canadian Community Health Survey found that 1 in 10 Canadians aged 12 to 44 experience chronic pain. That is 1.5 million people struggling every day.
Chronic pain includes a variety of different symptoms and syndromes like back pain, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia, and more. People who suffer from chronic pain experience issues in every facet of their life as a result including problems in their work and home situations.
It can also lead to other health issues like eating difficulties, sleep problems, and exhaustion. If the pain is severe, it can cause people to miss work, school, lose their jobs, or in extreme cases experience anxiety, loneliness, depression, and even worst, cause suicidal ideation.
Chronic pain is not always this extreme, but even in milder forms, it can stop people from doing the things they love. For example, if you are an active runner and experience chronic leg pain you may have to stop running or exercising That can have serious consequences for your mental health.
If you have regular headaches you may stop attending social situations or doing the things that you enjoy. Pain is a subjective experience and is different for everyone. Even emotional trauma can begin to express itself as physical pain if left untreated for too long. The point is, chronic pain can come in many different shapes and can play a negative role in your life.
How Can Massage Therapy Help?
There is positive news, though. Significant research has gone into exploring massage therapy as helping alleviate different types of pain as well as preventing it from getting more severe. In fact, therapeutic massage has been proven to relieve pain by relaxing sore muscles, joints, and tendons as well as reducing stress and anxiety, and is actively being researched as evidence mounts for its positive impact.
A study published in Annals of Family Medicine in 2014 revealed that patients that received a 60-minute therapeutic massage 2 - 3 times a week had their chronic pain relieved. Another research study in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice showed patients who suffered from chronic hand pain experienced an improvement in their symptoms after four weeks of massage treatments. Additional benefits included better sleep and less anxiety compared to people who didn’t receive hand massages.
A 2016 study from the Oxford academy sought to assess how effective massage therapy could be in terms of treating pain and overall quality of life in patients. Researchers found that “massage therapy may be beneficial, with minimal safety concerns, for treating various pain and function-related outcomes in pain populations.”
These studies and countless others have shown that massage therapy can have a positive impact on the lives of people struggling with chronic pain. There is also little evidence that shows negative consequences.
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A 2016 Fraser Institute study found that 79 percent of adult Canadians had tried at least one form of complementary or alternative medicine, with 44% of respondents saying they had tried massage. As more long-term health benefits are revealed, it seems more Canadians are exploring the wonderful world of massage therapy.
If you suffer from chronic pain or discomfort and it is affecting your life and happiness, perhaps massage therapy can help. Long-term pain has physical consequences but it can have very serious emotional ones as well.
By increasing endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, and decreased cortisol in the body, massage works to relax and reduce stress and anxiety. Additionally, some studies have reported that massage can "close the pain gate" by stimulating competing nerve fibers and disrupting pain messages that travel to the brain.
Before I sit down with a patient, I go over their medical history in detail to better understand the reason for the appointment and the goals for treatment. If you suffer from chronic pain, we work together to develop a plan that will bring about the best results and the right techniques to bring some relief to your symptoms.
For example, if you suffer from fibromyalgia you may only be able to handle lighter pressure whereas different chronic pain felt in other areas such as the neck and shoulders may require a more therapeutic approach or a heavier touch. Whatever approach we take, the end goal is to help improve your symptoms and manage the pain you feel in your day-to-day life.