Breaking The Chronic Pain Cycle With Massage

Approximately 116 million people live with chronic pain (Institute of Medicine) Breaking chronic pain’s vicious cycle of pain, spasm, pain is not an easy task.  The cycle goes like this: Pain causes muscle tension which leads to decreased circulation and range of motion, all of which increase the pain. This brings about even more tension, and even less circulation, inducing more pain, securing the cycle.

One of the most effective, drug-free and surgery-free methods to breaking the chronic pain cycle is massage therapy.  Let me explain it in 3 simple steps.

#1 Decreased Muscle Tension

In order to protect itself from injury, muscles instinctively contract around painful areas. Once the pain goes away, the muscles will relax, but if it doesn’t let up, neither will the tight muscles.

Sometimes those tight muscles will press on nerves, causing numbness and tingling, and even more pain. Massage therapy helps by stretching tight, contacted muscles and stimulating the nervous system to relax muscle tension.

#2 Improved Circulation

Tight muscles have poor circulation, which gives rise to an accumulation of waste products, leaving you feeling sore and tired. In addition, the increase in waste products can irritate nerves, causing pain to spread.

Massage therapy to the rescue- loosening up tight, contracted muscles, increasing circulation, relaxing the nervous system, and helping to increase blood flow. Waste products are quickly flushed away and replaced with oxygen-enriched nutrients.

Muscles with poor circulation often develop trigger points, hyper-irritable spots that refer pain and tingling to other places in the body. Trigger points are no match for massage techniques such as Trigger Point Therapy (a.k.a. Neuromuscular Therapy).


#3 Stretched Out Muscles and Improved Range of Motion

The body’s natural reaction to any contracted area with poor circulation is to lay down connective tissue (also known as collagen fibers, the building blocks of scar tissue). Despite the healing nature of this process, it inevitably “glues” muscles and their connective tissue coverings into a shortened state. The stretching and kneading of massage therapy helps to soften and lengthen connective tissue.

So, there you have it. Massage for chronic pain helps restore normal muscle movement by releasing trigger points, removing waste products, and stretching tight, contracted muscles. Ideally, after a massage has disrupted the pain spasm cycle, the chronic pain patient will feel more energized and motivated to engage in physical activity.

What Happens When The Lightest Touch is Too Much?

Sometimes pain can be so intense that the lightest touch can cause pure agony. In this case, deep tissue massage and trigger point therapy aren’t the best solutions.  Normally, I try the extremely gentle Craniosacral therapy or Lymphatic Drainage, but even when these techniques are too painful, I refer the client to their primary care physician.



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After a protracted period of work -related stress followed by a month of 12-hour days committed to a large and neglected garden, I came to Morgan for a 2-hr birthday massage special with the hope of releasing some of the knots in my back, which were limiting my mobility. As ever, Morgan exceeded expectations,using combined therapeutic techniques that relieved the tension and obliterated the pain. Given my lifestyle, I would come weekly if I could!

- Vanessa McClinchy