The pain cycle:
In order to understand how massage therapy can help with pain management, we first need to understand the cause of muscular pain. When muscles are damaged, whether through a physical trauma, an over-use chronic injuries, or over stimulated by psychological stress, they go into spasm. Muscle spasm is a state of involuntarily muscle contraction attempting to prevent further damage being done. If the muscle fibers contract for an extended period of time, the condition called Ischemia (lack of blood flow) will occur. Blood is responsible for gas and nutrient exchange, and lack of blood flow will force the muscle to operate in the anaerobic condition and lactic acid will be produced. This will cause pain to the muscle and muscle spasm. The cycle continues.
Massage therapy VS pain cycle:
Massage therapy manages pain by breaking the pain cycle, interfering with one or more of the components which make up the pain cycle.
Increase systemic blood flow:
Massage therapy moves blood and other bodily fluid around the body. The pressure in massage is exerted on the blood vessel, causing an increase in blood pressure and peripheral resistance. So, how does this increase the blood flow? The body responds to changes in the environment internally and externally; the negative feedback system will respond to the increased peripheral resistance by dilating the blood vessel, which decreases the peripheral resistance. In other words, blood circulation improves.
Improved circulation, removed ischemia:
Because of the improved circulation, lack of blood flow is no longer an issue. Gas and nutrients are exchanged efficiently at the muscle, and lactic acid will be carried to and used up by the heart. The muscle now can work in a homeostasis condition, start to release from spasm, and relax. Micro-damage in the fiber will now be repaired by the oxygen and nutrients supplied by the blood.
As with other modalities, the true benefit of massage therapy is best felt when maintained over time. As we progress through daily activity, our body will constantly face the damage and repair cycle. Massage can help speed up the healing process, relax the nervous system, and manage the pain long-term. It is important to note that the benefit of massage therapy is both physical and psychological: when you look after one aspect, the other will be greatly influenced.