How can massage help with pain? Many of my clients initially come for a massage because they are dealing with a part of their body that hurts. They instinctively know that massaging the area will make it feel better and speed the healing process. Either they have tried themselves or had a friend try without getting the pain to go away.
What does your pain feel like to me? Hot, hard and tender are often the words I use. Is the area hot to the touch relative to the surrounding area? Heat indicates inflammation. Sometimes the area will be swollen and reddish in addition to being hot. Swollen tissue suggests that the body recognizes the area is injured and floods it with fluids to provide an internal splint. Or the tissue itself can be damaged and fluid is pooling. As the amount of fluid increases in the area, the fluid puts pressure on the surrounding nerves causing them to register more pain. Ice and gentle pumping of the tissue can relieve this pain
The area can feel hard to the touch. Hardness comes in all shapes and sizes. The entire area can be hard, again another indicator of inflammation. The muscles can also respond to an injury by clamping down and guarding the area. Particular bands within the muscle may be hard. Often when people talk about knots in a muscle, this is what they are describing. The muscle has lost some or all of its flexibility. Over time the hardness restricts the flow of blood into and out of the area. When this happens the circulatory system cannot bring in oxygen and nutrients or remove cellular waste. As a result, the tissue becomes more painful. Massaging the area and stretching the tissue can restore the circulation, improve the suppleness of the tissue and reduce the pain.
Or the hard areas may be much smaller, pea size or even less. These might indicate trigger points. Pressure to these spots will cause pain in other areas of the body besides just that spot. Trigger points are even less widely understood and require special skill to address. I have helped clients experience dramatic results with trigger point work.
Finally, is it tender to the touch? Tender can refer to the response from the client. Does it cause you to wince? Tender can also refer to the tissue itself. Does the tissue in the area feel weak, having less structure? Often this is caused by tissue in other areas pulling and putting a strain on the area. For instance, pain between the shoulder blades is often caused by overly tight pectoral muscles in the front. Working to loosen these muscles relieves the pain in the back.
Again, pain is a complex issue. Massage is a great way to address the issue. The more your therapist knows about pain and the clearer your communication back and forth, the better the outcome.