Massage therapy and pain

In massage school, the main focus of your learning will be on learning the muscles, actions, pathology and learning how to safely give a massage. We often come to associate the act of giving a massage with loosening tight muscles and often see that it helps with reducing and even eliminating pain. When we do that, we are assuming that the massage is directly related to the reduced pain. So many other factors come in to play that we don’t know about or may know about. This is the heart of pseudoscience.

“Correlation does not imply causation”

With Science, we are able to test the theories that just giving massage and relaxing tight muscles may be the cause of something. Critical thinking is needed to realize that there are many other things going on in a persons body at any one time. When we always assume that massage is the answer, it is one way of thinking that gets in the way of critical thinking.

Before you start learning more about the latest theories on pain, be sure you understand Science Literacy

The Definition of Pain

The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain:

An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.

Six key notes and etymology:

Pain is always a personal experience that is influenced to varying degrees by biological, psychological, and social factors.

Pain and nociception are different phenomena. Pain cannot be inferred solely from activity in sensory neurons.

Through their life experiences, individuals learn the concept of pain.

A person’s report of an experience as pain should be respected.

Although pain usually serves an adaptive role, it may have adverse effects on function and social and psychological well-being.

Verbal description is only one of several behaviors to express pain; inability to communicate does not negate the possibility that a human or a nonhuman animal experiences pain.

The Biopsychosocial Model of Pain

The biopsychosocial model the most current model of pain that says that there is more to pain then just an injury or condition. The person’s psychological and social variables must also be included along with the biomedical model to understand the complete picture of pain. Many massage schools start with teaching the gate theory of pain, which is a start but not the whole story.

Bio – the anatomical and molecular processes of the persons body.

Psycho- Mood, personality, past experiences and reactions to pain, and other factors. (DOES NOT MEAN it is all in your head.)

Social – Family, social, economic and cultural experiences of the person in pain.

A person can step on a nail and be screaming in pain, only to find out later that their work boots protected it from going through their foot. A person can break a bone in their leg and walk around on it for a week and just think of it as a nagging pain. Someone can have a leg one inch shorter than the other and experience no pain. Someone can have debilitating arthritis that shows as bone on bone in an x-ray and have no pain. These are some of the things I have seen or heard of and some come from the book “Painful Yarns” which was one of my first books on the subject of pain along with the book “Explain Pain

The simplest way to explain pain is that pain is the result of the Nervous System and Brain and has little to do with the amount of tissue damage and injury. It is a protective device. It is way more then just the sensory experience. It is a very complex process and depends on how the brain evaluates and interprets the message. Pain does not always mean that there is a problem.

For massage therapists whose main focus is muscles and tissues of the body, the key thing to know is that tissue healing actually is complete within one to six months depending on the injury or surgery.

Research on Pain and massage therapy

New Research Analysis Indicates Massage Therapy Strongly Recommended for Pain Management Published May 10, 2016

 New Research Analysis Indicates Massage Therapy Shows Promise for Pain & Anxiety in Cancer Patients Published August 17, 2016

New Research Analysis Indicates Value of Massage Therapy for Surgical Pain Published September 14, 2016 “Based on this systematic review and meta-analysis, massage therapy was found to not only be relatively safe, with infrequent adverse events, but also more efficacious than other active treatments for treating pain and anxiety in surgical populations. “

Meta-Analysis on Massage Therapy and Pain Database – search the full database used in these meta-analyses.