May 10, 2022, By American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)
Decades of research have demonstrated the efficacy of massage therapy for the relief of chronic pain and shown its value in reducing the need for opioids. Pain, especially chronic pain, can be difficult to treat. For too long, the first option considered for pain management was a prescription, most commonly for opioids. As the United States continues to struggle with the opioid epidemic and its devastating effects on lives, society, and the economy, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) believes it’s important for those who suffer from pain and healthcare providers alike, to consider the role massage can play in an integrative approach to pain relief. Research supports the efficacy of massage for the relief of chronic pain and shows its value in reducing the need for opioid use.
Recent Research Studies on Massage for Pain Relief and Health Conditions
A recently published study from the Cleveland Clinic shows that multidisciplinary, non-pharmacological integrative therapies, including massage therapy, can improve physical, mental, and social health for patients with chronic, non-cancer-related pain without increased use of opioid medications. Patients received an evaluation and evidence-based therapies from a team of integrative and lifestyle medicine professionals, including acupuncture, acupressure, massage therapy, cognitive therapy, and chiropractic work. Relaxation techniques of meditation, yoga, breathing, and hypnotherapy were also used.1
Another recent study from the Stollery Children’s Hospital and the University of Alberta indicates that hand self-shiatsu massage therapy is effective in promoting sleep in young people with chronic pain. Participants self-applied a standardized hand shiatsu protocol and were measured for one week at the baseline before learning the hand self-shiatsu technique, and then at four- and eight-week follow-ups. At the various measurement points, the participants completed self-reported evaluations of their sleep quality and daytime fatigue. The standardized self-report measures demonstrated statistically significant improvement in perceived sleep disturbance, sleep-related impairment, and daytime fatigue.2
In addition, a separate study is currently underway, examining how to help differentiate between the specific effects of myofascial massage and non-specific effects due to prolonged touch and attention from a massage therapist for post-surgery breast cancer patients. The massage therapy profession will be examining this and further research at the Massage Therapy Foundation’s International Massage Therapy Research Conference this month.3
“Research on the efficacy of massage therapy for chronic pain continues to show great promise,” says Michaele Colizza, AMTA President. “Patients should discuss massage therapy as part of an integrative approach to their care with their physicians, as it can provide real value and relief.”
Why Massage Therapy For Pain Is More Important Than Ever
During the pandemic, many chronic pain services were disrupted as healthcare systems throughout the country were forced to redistribute resources for non-urgent, outpatient care towards intensive care units for COVID-19 patients. This delayed access exacerbated the pain crisis in the U.S., contributing to drug over-reliance and substance abuse. Now that massage therapists are practicing again, non-opioid pain therapies, such as massage, are more important than ever. Consumers continue to value massage therapy as 92% consider it to be effective for reducing pain. In fact, pain relief is the top reason consumers talk to their physicians about massage.4
1 Znidarsic J, et. al. (2021). “Living Well with Chronic Pain”: Integrative Pain: Integrative Pain Management via Shared Medical Appointments. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.), 22(1), 181–190. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnaa418.
2 Brown, C. A., Rivard, A., Reid, K., Dick, B., Bellmore, L., Qin, P., Prasad, V., & Wang, Y. (2020). Effectiveness of Hand Self-Shiatsu to Promote Sleep in Young People with Chronic Pain: a Case Series Design. International journal of therapeutic massage & bodywork, 13(4), 3–11. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33282031/
3 Sehgal, A, et al., (2020-2024). Pain and Immobility After Breast Cancer Surgery: A Community-Based Randomized Controlled Trial of Myofascial Massage Treatment. Investigators propose a randomized controlled trial looking at myofascial massage compared to a light touch group to look at the effects on pain and immobility following breast cancer surgery. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04233385?term=massage&cond=Breast+Cancer&draw=2&rank=5
4 AMTA 2022 Massage Profession Research Report, based on data from the annual AMTA Consumer Survey, conducted by CARAVAN® ENGINE Insights in July 2021.
More on what is Chronic Pain
According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 20.4% (50.0 million) of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults (19.6 million) had high-impact chronic pain.
The resort also highlighted higher prevalences of both chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain reported among women, older adults, previously but not currently employed adults, adults living in poverty, adults with public health insurance, and rural residents.
In this article, we’ll be looking at the positive benefits that regular massage can have on those suffering from chronic pain.
According to the NHS, chronic pain is described as pain that carries on for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment or pain that carries on for longer than six months after the apparent cause, such as an injury or surgery, has healed.
Chronic pain and especially high-impact chronic pain can be debilitating, resulting in, according to the CDC, restrictions in mobility and daily activities, dependence on opioids, anxiety, and depression, and poor perceived health or reduced quality of life.
How Can Massage Help?
While massage can rarely be used to address the root cause of chronic pain, unless it is muscular in nature, it can be used to reduce the negative effects of chronic pain.
For instance, massage has been proven to reduce the levels of cortisol in the human body. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced when the body is in pain. In the short term it can help to deal with injuries and stressful situations.
In the long term, however, its overproduction can lead to negative side effects like digestive problems, headaches, sleep issues, and weight gain. Regular massage can help to reduce those issues and also have a proven ability to help deal with the symptoms of stress and depression.
Massage can also result in the body producing serotonin, which is a naturally occurring pain reliever. While this isn’t a solution to chronic pain, it can help, as part of a pain management regime, to reduce a patient’s reliance on potentially addictive opiate pain relief.
Lastly, regular massage both increases circulation and relaxes muscles. As per the CDC report, chronic pain can lead to a loss of mobility and regular massage can help to relieve those symptoms by relaxing tight muscles and increasing circulation.
Why Massage Therapy for My Pain?
Massage therapy is turning out to be more broadly accepted as a dependable treatment for many types of pain within the medical community. It is also accepted as an adjunct to other medical treatments. In general, massage is rarely given as the primary or sole treatment for pain management. It is often employed as one factor of therapy and to aid in preparing the patient to partake in exercise or other treatment methods. Regardless, massage can be an essential and operative component of your pain management routine.
Massage has been revealed to be especially effective in mitigating back pain. Due to the fact that back pain is a component of a wide array of pain conditions, massage is often considered to be beneficial to the healing process. Moreover, different types of massage will be useful for different segments of the body. Specifically, acupressure and shiatsu are intended to relieve different types of pain in different regions. Neuromuscular treatment is typically beneficial in relieving “referred” pain, which is pain that is activated by one part of the body but is felt in an entirely different area.
Benefits of Massage Therapy
In general, the benefits of massage therapy include increased blood flow and enhanced circulation; muscle relaxation which subsequently improves range of motion; increased endorphin levels; improved sleep, and lessened bouts of insomnia. Enjoy this quick summary of various types of massage that may be appropriate for you.
This is the most popular type of massage, therefore, most research regarding the benefits of massage has utilized Swedish massage techniques. It is important to note that Swedish massage is very gentle and does not target precise pain points or apply deep pressure. It is widely recognized as being highly relaxing which is excellent for sufferers of acute or chronic pain. Despite how mild Swedish massage is, it enhances blood flow and thus can aid in the removal of excess lactic acid from muscles, thereby helping alleviate muscle pain.
This type of massage therapy is also known as “trigger point” massage due to the fact that it targets regions of tension and muscular spasm in the back. The massage therapist directs pressure to a particular region of interest. Neuromuscular massage can sometimes cause soreness at the outset since the focus of its pressure is directly on tender regions. Be sure to communicate with your therapist to identify the appropriate pressure. Similar to Swedish massage, neuromuscular massage also works to flush lactic acid out of the muscles to alleviate pain.
This type of massage stimulates vital spots on the body to impede pain sensations and stimulate the natural pain relievers of the body. In general, the best approach for pain relief is to apply sustained pressure on vital points for one to three minutes. This pressure is applied by using hands, fingers, or other devices.
This form of massage is very similar to acupressure, as the word shiatsu literally means “finger pressure”. The primary difference is that practitioners of shiatsu do not use their full hands to apply pressure – only the fingers are used.
MASSAGE THERAPY CAN ease chronic pain when the right technique is artfully executed by a perceptive, skilled therapist. It promotes relaxation, relieves tension, and increases blood and oxygen flow to muscles for healing. It also promotes the release of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, and improves sleep, something often in short supply for those of us living with persistent pain.
- Deep tissue – is a type of massage that releases restrictive tissue and scarring that develops from injury and leads to musculoskeletal pain. You will probably be sore after, but don’t confuse that with unbearable pain. Keep in mind that too much of this type can cause further muscle tension and could lead to more injury.
- Trigger point – the goal of trigger point massage is to release the trigger point within a tight muscle. If myofascial pain syndrome is present, as seen in many chronic pain disorders, i.e., fibromyalgia, migraine, spinal degeneration, interstitial cystitis, irritable bladder, arthritic joints, post-surgical scarring, etc., a specialized myofascial trigger point therapist is imperative.
- Myofascial release – targets the thin layer of connective tissue (fascia) that covers and connects all the muscles in the body. Releasing myofascial restrictions focuses on wellness for the body as a whole.
- Craniosacral massage – is a light touch therapy that prompts proper movement of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and spinal cord. A therapist’s trained hands can feel restrictions, detect imbalances, and manipulate the affected area.
- Self-massage – is specific and individualistic. With guidance, consistent therapy often improves outcomes, so don’t be surprised if your therapist gives you homework.
Other massage techniques include Rolfing, spray and stretch, Shiatsu, Hellerwork, acupressure, Alexander Technique, Rosen Method, and more.
We unconsciously change posture in an effort to find comfort, we tighten and hold muscles in response to pain, and our chronic pain source, like myofascial pain syndrome or joint hypermobility, can have an effect on our muscles and joints too. We could use some help to minimize the effects of these actions.
The goal of massage therapy is to:
- Relax muscles.
- Improve joint range of motion.
- Improve overall body function.
- Promote feelings of well-being.
- Ease pain.
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*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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