Massage for Pain Relief
Candles. Soft music. Fragrant oils. For once, someone else is doing all the work—you just lie there and relax. It’s easy to see why massage ranks as an ultimate stress reliever. But aside from its calming effects, massage—rubbing, kneading, pressing or rolling the body’s soft tissues—is also a proven therapy for pain relief.
Massage can be used to help treat everyday aches and chronic pain, as well as pain resulting from cancer or its treatment. Some studies even show that massage provides better relief from pain, in some instances, than some medicine. It’s no wonder, then, that your doctor can now write you a prescription for a rubdown.
Learn more about the different types in our article, The Better-Health Benefits of Massage Therapy. Some massage treatments or modalities are especially beneficial for specific issues or conditions. Find out what’s right for your unique brand of hurt with this review of common pain conditions and the massage that help treat them:
For General Chronic Pain
Try: Swedish Massage
It’s believed that all types of massage activate muscles and tissues to enhance blood flow and metabolism, which reduces tension and lowers levels of chemicals that generate and prolong pain.
A study from the University of Hawaii suggests that Swedish massage can be at least as effective as standard medical care in treating chronic pain in areas like the back, neck and shoulders. In the study, the five-week course of 10 twenty-minute Swedish massages also relieved depression and anxiety. Compared to the group that received standard medical care, the group receiving massage experienced longer-lasting benefits.
For Tension Headaches
Massages have been shown to reduce tension headache pain, as well the intensity, duration and frequency of headaches. Plus, research shows that getting a massage for a tension headache helps to lessen the feelings of stress, anger, depression and anxiety that can cause them in the first place.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for a spa appointment to get relief when one strikes. Gently massage the muscles of your head, neck and shoulders with your fingertips by using tips from our article, Enjoy a Self-Massage.
For Back Pain
Try: Relaxation Massage or Structured Massage
Chronic back pain sufferers who get massages feel more relief than those who receive standard care alone, which includes medications like muscle relaxants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and painkillers.
Two types of massage have been found to offer lower-back pain relief for up to six months after treatment: relaxation massage focusing on easing tension, and structured massage aiming to alleviate musculoskeletal factors that contribute to back pain. Both led to a decrease in back pain symptoms and disability after 10 weeks of treatment. Some common structured massages you might want to ask about are deep tissue, trigger point, myofascial release and neuromuscular therapy.
For Muscle Pain
If you’re aching from a tough workout, this type of massage—which focuses on relieving knots of tight muscle tissue at trigger points—may reduce your soreness and, in some cases, take the place of pain-relieving drugs. The techniques used in myotherapy (also called trigger point massage, and sometimes used in sports massage) may relax muscles, improve muscle strength, flexibility and coordination and increase blood circulation.
Swedish massage can help, too. In a study of leg soreness after exercise, people who got a Swedish massage reported no more pain 90 minutes after their treatment, and the rubdown also improved blood flow. Those who didn’t get a massage stayed sore for 24 hours.
Try: Connective Tissue Massage
Also known as deep tissue massage, this treatment is similar to Swedish massage but uses deeper pressure and slower strokes to improve muscle flexibility and improve circulation. One study found that connective tissue massage therapy reduced fibromyalgia pain by 37 percent, and it also lowered sufferers’ levels of depression and use of painkillers, while improving quality of life.
Massage may also help regulate serotonin levels to reduce pain in people with fibromyalgia. You may need five or more weeks of massage treatments to feel better, according to an analysis of several studies on massage for fibromyalgia pain. It’s also important to keep up with your treatments to fulfill successful tissue release and to sustain healing results. Stopping treatment early may allow your symptoms to return.
“The benefits of massage compound with multiple sessions when dealing with chronic issues,” says Jordan Barton, L.M.T., the massage manager at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. “As we realize the benefits, we pay more attention to our bodies and when we pay more attention to our bodies, we tend to notice problems before they become problematic.”