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Science-Backed Ways Massage Helps Control Pain

woman wrapped in a towel showing hands of person giving massage

Nothing feels better when you’re stressed out than a relaxing massage. Yet massage is more than just a technique for relaxation. It’s used in various medical settings to relieve stress and relax tight muscles. Research even suggests that massage may be beneficial for controlling pain.

For example, some research suggests massage can help relieve neck pain, back pain, and headaches. However, unlike pain medications, it only has positive side effects like feeling relaxed and stress-free. But how might massage ease pain?

By Increasing Blood Flow to Tissues

When you massage and warm sore achy muscles and other tissues, blood flow to painful areas rises. Increased blood flow means increased oxygenated blood flow to the muscles, tendons, joints, and other tissues of your body. This leads to increased muscle flexibility and reduces muscle spasms. This mechanism of pain relief is beneficial if you have neck pain, back pain, or tightness in one or more muscles. It also feels delightful after a tough workout.

By Relaxing Your Body and Easing Stress

Another way massage eases pain is by easing stress. When you’re in a relaxed state, you’re less aware of

the discomfort that you’re feeling. A study found that massage helps people with health conditions in hospitals and other acute care settings better deal with pain and psychological aspects of their illness. Those who received massage felt more relaxed, slept better, and experienced less pain.

When you’re constantly stressed, your central nervous system (which includes the brain and spinal cord) is in high alert mode and can’t turn off. This causes a constant flow of chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol through your body, which can create pain and tension.

Massage helps balance these chemicals by easing stress, so you feel more relaxed and less aware of pain. It helps restore balance to an overactive nervous system. Many people suffering from chronic pain experience stress due to their condition, and this stress can worsen pain.

Another theory is that massage therapy boosts endorphins, natural pain killers your body produces in response to factors like massage and exercise. Endorphins also promote a feeling of well-being that helps you forget about the pain. These are the same chemicals that explain the runner’s high, the sensation

of being at peace with the world runner’s experience during a run.

By Closing Pain Gates

According to Harvard Health, the gate control theory of pain may explain some of the benefits of massage for pain control. This theory points out that your spinal cord has “gates” that allow pain messages to travel to the brain.

Massage and other forms of touch provide sensory information that blocks the gates that carry pain information to the brain, so you feel more comfortable and experience less pain. So, massage may shut down the transmission lines for pain, at least temporarily.

By Reducing Muscle Spasm

One way massage therapy works to reduce pain is by breaking up muscle spasms, which is one of the main contributors to chronic pain. Spasm is when a muscle contracts involuntarily. Such contractions can lead to tension headaches and even muscle tears if severe enough.

\One way that massage can help with chronic pain is by working out knots in your muscles. It is a form of bodywork that uses manipulation of the soft tissue to relieve muscle tension and pain. When you have chronic pain, your muscles are constantly in a state of spasm. Massage can help relax these muscles, allowing you to move about easier and feel less pain.

By Shifting the Focus Away from Pain

Massage is a diversion. It’s hard to think about pain when you’re relaxing with a massage. By shifting the focus away from pain and towards a calming activity, you give your body a chance to naturally reduce its stress response. Massage therapy usually feels quick, which is why most people find it helpful for pain relief.

The Bottom Line

Massage feels wonderful but it can also help reduce some types of pain, especially pain related to tight muscles or muscle spasms. Now you know how it works. Take advantage of the pain-relieving benefits that massage offers. It’s safer than using pain medications.


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