Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


Massage, It Isn’t Just Some Fluff ‘n Buff Thing

The simple act of human touch is far more important than most realize, and proving to be a larger part of the healing process than thought of in modern medicine. Humans are extremely social animals, and while we are much more domesticated primates now, we still have that primal need for touch. With touch being so healing, it is no surprise massage is so healing as well. The current term massage, comes from French and translates to “friction of kneading,” in Arabic massa means “to touch, feel or handle” and the ancient Latin term for massage was frictio which is obviously close to friction. No matter what the term used for it though, it is a natural reaction to pain. When you injure something, or something just hurts, the natural human reaction is to rub the area. And it is this that has developed through human history into present day massage therapy and medical massage.

Massage is non-invasive as a treatment, and helps to heal damaged muscles, stimulate circulation, stimulate the immune/lymphatic system, reduce pain, relieve spasms & tension, and alleviate stress. Since massage generally puts one into an extremely relaxed state, the body will naturally release more endorphins, which we already know are the body’s natural pain medication. Massage will also reduce levels of hormones that rise during stress, which can be damaging to the body over extended periods of time. I am a firm believer in massage as a large part in chronic pain management, and starting a regular massage routine caused a huge change in my quality of life. My pain was reduced, and range of motion not only increased, but was able to be maintained. I was not always a believer though, after my accident, and even after my surgeries, many of my friends and family told me I should get a massage.

“You should get one, it would really help,” they would say.

I would say “No, that is some silly luxury for Spas, and Cruise ship denizens, I don’t need that.”

But 1,000’s of years of human history can’t be wrong…can it?

Definitely not. In fact they, my family, and friends, were all so very, very right.

Depiction of massage in the “Physician’s Tomb” dated to around 2330 BCE, further proof that everyone enjoys a foot rub.

Massage is a fantastic way to help relieve stress, pain, and generally maintain the health of mind, body, and spirit. Almost every known historical, and modern, cultures have some type of massage for medical or therapeutic use. Most generally use massage to relieve stress, prevent or heal injuries, and assist with pain. Massage is included in the most ancient medical texts and presently has tons of different styles and methods. But even with this variety, almost all of them have the same goal, overall body and mind wellness, and massage has long been considered an integral part of the healing arts. So much so that Hippocrates said –

“The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing; for things that have the same name have not always the same effects. For rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too rigid… Hard rubbing binds; soft rubbing loosens; much rubbing causes parts to [loosen]; moderate rubbing makes them grow.'”

And he should know, considering he was the student of Herodicus, who could be considered one of the historical founders of modern sport medicine (though that title has many claimants, and all are highly debatable). Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine have some of the oldest documented writings on massage, and is widely used in their treatments past, and present. The infamous Avicenna of Persia, spoke of analgesics used with massage, and massage’s pain relieving effects when used just on its own. He also mentions that massage should be performed prior to exercise, which only became well known in recent years due to televising during the ’84 Olympic games.

Massage use was well documented in Ancient Greece, athletes were often given massages. Since Rome loves to copy Greece, Roman athletes and Gladiators were treated with massage as well. Julius Caesar was known to regularly receive massage to assist with neuralgia and possibly treat his epileptic seizures. Galen, well known for his own work with Gladiators, and as a Physician, was a supporter of massage, and its ability to treat many ailments. He believed, a good diet, exercise, rest and massage were key to a healthy body. He was also a very strong spokesman against people who would lower the opinion of massage.

No wonder he looks so grumpy!

You heard me, no happy endings!

Which is a frequent problem even now, most of the time when massage is mentioned you inevitably get the “happy ending” jokes. Not all massage is of a sexual nature, though there were some blurring of lines during the 19th century. Where massage was used to treat hysteria, and while it was considered medical, its definitely crossing some lines. This early association in America could be a reason for most modern association of massage with sexual acts. Probably not helped by advertisements…

“I promise it won’t get weird”

And hilarious machines…

Your 19th century lady’s secret in the bottom drawer. So discreet!

Just as Galen was frustrated with these associations in his time, we fair no better in our modern times. Massage is inevitably linked with seedy parlors that offer the infamous “happy ending,” more than a valid medical treatment. Despite all of this though, massage is highly esteemed in some medical circles and is rapidly gaining supporters in the medical community. So hopefully in the future the more healing features of massage will be lauded, rather than the carnal.

It is that effectiveness in treating people that has kept massage alive for centuries, and now modern science is starting to revive the medical community’s interest in it. Some clinical studies have been done, but not enough for modern science to state that yes, it is 100% effective, and they fully understanding of how it all works. Luckily it is a field that is rapidly gaining attention, and research is speeding up on it, so we may be hearing changes of opinion in the medical community in the next decade. In the clinical studies that have been done so far, some as recently as 2008, it has been shown that massage is the best relief for chronic back pain. Much more so than other treatments including acupuncture, medications, and other conventional medical treatments. Some studies have found that anxiety, pain, depression, and stress can all be reduced through massage therapy. Its also been found to help with neck pain, which I can personally vouch for, and thought to alleviate some pain for cancer patients. The American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians recommend that patients with chronic pain should include massage in their pain management regimen. So while modern science is not fully sure why massage works, the evidence is starting pile up, and clearly point to it working. It is just the “whys and the hows” that aren’t completely understood, current theories are that it helps to either block pain signals sent to the brain, or it could be that it causes the release of serotonin, endorphins, or other chemicals the body produces that help deal with pain. It could even be it triggers some other beneficial change in the body that we aren’t even familiar with yet, there is still so much about the body we do not know.

What I can say is from personal experience is that massage can do wonders for neurological pain, back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, tension headaches, muscle pain and spasms. So many times the expert hands of my masseuse have found an area that needed work, that I was in too much pain to pin point, and alleviated more pain than I thought possible. Seeing my masseuse can turn some level 10 pain days right around, changing a horrible day to a great one. Even migraines from spasms can be relieved with massage, and a good neck and shoulder massage has been the reason I have gotten through some horrible migraines. Times when injections or other medications are not option. Massage is, unlike lots of treatments, something you can add to your regimen that is considered mostly safe with little danger in using it frequently. Of course you do want to consult with your doctor if you have special needs, or conditions, but most ailments can benefit from massage.

A massage will generally consist of the manipulation of the skin, muscles and other tissues, done with a body part (hand, feet, elbow, etc) or with tools. Some stretching may be involved, as well as the application of heat, vibration, or other methods. Some massage, like deep tissue, can be mildly painful, but you should never feel you can’t stand the pain. It is important to give feedback to the masseuse, to make sure they are using the right level of pressure for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for more pressure if you need it, or ask them to back off a bit if it hurts too much. It is important you work together, so your body doesn’t take more than it is able to handle. Remember it should “hurt so good,” but never just hurt. As you build your relationship with your masseuse, you will find they know the amount of pressure you like and can take, and they will eventually get to know your body’s needs almost as well as you do.

There is a bit of a lingo that comes with massage, so below are a few basic movements you will hear mentioned. They are:

  • Effleurage – gliding or stroking
  • Friction – rubbing or pressing
  • Petrissage – squeezing or kneading
  • Tapotement – striking, beating or percussion
  • Vibration – oscillations on the skin

These can again be done with a part of the body, or with a tool as said earlier. Sometimes besides heat and vibration, essential oils can be used in combination with massage to assist with pain reduction, ease stress, or aide the release of muscles. I highly recommend locating a masseuse who uses therapeutic grade oils in their massage, as they add a whole new treatment dimension to the massage process. The style of massage practiced doesn’t really matter in general, as long as they are certified in some sort of therapeutic massage techniques. The masseuse you choose should sit and talk with you prior to each session to find out what areas will need focus, if any, and a general idea of your existing issues. This is important as it help’s them, and you, to create a sort of “game plan” for that treatment session.

Aromatherapy, while it still mostly falls into the realms of what most people consider too “out there,” or too “woo woo” as I call it, but there has been studies in smell and the body’s reaction to it. And there is enough evidence for me to consider that they just might be on to something. Certain smells diffused in the air during a massage session can assist with the body and mind’s relaxation, and can even assist with pain relief, since relaxation will make those endorphins release. So aromatherapy, combined with massage and oils, is the best, and possibly most effective way, to treat pain and stress in my humble, non-medical, opinion.

Again, you should do your own research, look into a few styles and find out what will work best for you. Interview a masseuse before going, and make sure you read up on the style they use for treatment to make sure it is right for you. It is always a good idea to talk it over with your doctor before embarking on any new pain treatments, and this way they can inform you of any issues you would need to be mindful about – such as with cancer patients, or pregnant women. Make sure the masseuse is certified, and if their certifications aren’t displayed, make sure you ask to see them. And if you are ever in doubt about anything, always ask a professional.

If you are in the Austin area, I highly recommend AZ Massage.