In a way, having pain is a good thing. Pain is not fun to experience, but you need to understand that pain is a signal indicating that something is wrong in your body. It tells you that your body needs some help to reach normal equilibrium again. When equilibrium is reached, the pain will naturally go away. So pain is good because it tells you that something is wrong, and that you need to do something to fix it.
Most causes of pain in the human body come from soft-tissue dysfunction. Soft-tissue dysfunctions include:
• Damaged or torn tissue
• Tissue that is stuck together (i.e. adhesions)
• Tissue that is contracted and cannot lengthen normally
• Inflamed tissue
• Ischemic tissue (i.e. lacking proper nutrition and blood flow)
• Atrophied tissue (i.e. tissue that has wasted away or shrunk)
• Tissue with trigger points or tender points
• Tissue that is compressed by other structures
• Nerve compression/entrapment
In all of these cases, if you can correct what is wrong, the pain will go away. Current medical philosophy seems to prescribe pain-killers as the main relief from pain. Taking pain-killers are good for blocking out the pain signals. Unfortunately, pain-killers usually do nothing to eliminate the source of the issue… that which is causing the pain signals to be sent in the first place. Unless you eliminate the source of pain, pain will continue and further damage may occur. The other option usually presented by doctors is surgery. In the case of a torn tendon or ligament, surgery is usually the correct answer… but for cases where tissue is stuck, inflamed, or contracted, surgery is not a good option. All surgery creates scar tissue, and scar tissue usually shrinks as it matures, pulling on all the structures around it. This can cause a re-occurrence of the original problem, or possibly a new problem. If there is an alternative to surgery, or a non-invasive way to treat your soft-tissue problem, then it is usually the better solution. Thankfully soft tissue responds very well to manual manipulation as provided in a treatment massage session.
Pain also has interesting phenomena that occur if it goes unchecked. These phenomena are explained by Pfluger’s (5) Laws – which basically state… As a sensory nerve is stimulated in an irritating manner, then irritation and pain will start at the area of stimulation. Given enough time with the irritating stimulation, more of the nervous system becomes involved, which can spread irritation/pain not only to the other side of the body, but can lead to irritation/pain all over the body. In other words… If a nerve has been irritated for long enough, then the pain will start to spread throughout the whole body.
Treatment massage works because the focus is on locating and eliminating the source of pain. This is accomplished by:
• Restoring proper circulation to and from the tissue
• Removing restrictions from the soft-tissue
• Lengthening out tissue that is contracted
• Reducing/eliminating trigger points and tender points
• Reducing compression by other structures
• Freeing up the structures that cause nerve compression/entrapment
The massage therapy I provide you will be goal-oriented, result-based, corrective therapy. I get consistent and measurable results for my clients. If you are tired of dealing with the pain, and your therapy up to this point has failed you, you need to give me a call. I have helped numerous people that have tried everything else in the medical system, and still suffered… until the came to see me.
Choose not to suffer any longer! Make an appointment today!
The Pain Cycle
The body’s pain cycle is an interesting one, but is also fundamental to understanding what is occurring in our own bodies. When tissue gets damaged, inflammation occurs. The increase of blood flow to the damaged area brings in the various cells and materials for repair. In addition, the swelling caused by the inflammation creates more pressure in the area, which can stimulate the pressure sensitive nerves sending signals to the brain. The signals are usually interpreted as pain. This is all very normal, and in many cases the situation stops there since the area gets repaired and the inflammation goes away.
In some cases, the pain sensation is so strong that the surrounding tissue is told to protect the damaged area from any further damage. The surrounding tissue protects the damaged area by clamping down and creating a wall preventing movement in the area of the damaged tissue. In the short term, this muscle splinting is a helpful action. In a longer term scenario, splinting becomes a problem since the area that is clamped down to protect ends up getting irritated and inflamed by being protective for so long. So the protecting area starts the pain cycle anew, and the irritated inflamed and injured area continues to grow. This is called a positive feedback loop, where the process continues to grow. As the injured area and the associated pain continues, more of the nervous system becomes involved and the pain can spread further out in the body. Usually pain will spread from the local tissue into neighboring tissue, then further along the limb or trunk.
Eventually it spreads to the opposite side of the body, and then further up and down the body. In some of the most severe cases, the pain has spread out through the whole body and limits the person’s daily activities.
The way to prevent the pain cycle from growing or continuing is to provide outside stimulus aimed at reducing the originally injured and restricted tissue, which reduces inflammation and also pain.
Moving or migrating pain
One of the topics that generally becomes part of the conversation I have with my clients relates to the way that pain moves or migrates from one area to another, and sometimes back again after it has gone away for a while. Why does this happen and what is going on?
To understand that, we need to understand some fundamentals about pain. There are many different things which ultimately cause pain, but a few of the most common are pressure, congestion (or inflammation), and restriction. (If we were reductionist thinkers, we would say that they were all problems of congestion.) These main three all act in similar ways in regard to how we perceive the pain caused by them, since pain is an interpretation in the brain of signals coming from the affected areas in the body. The key thing to note here is that the brain acts like a computer to process the signals coming in. If the signal never reaches the brain for interpretation, then you don’t experience pain. This is the mechanism for most pain-relief drugs.
While the brain interprets the signals, it uses a few basic rules to determine what our experience is. These rules are loosely translated into the following:
• If the signal strength (from the affected area) is greater than threshold amount “x”, provide an indicator (physical sensation) that something is wrong.
• If the signal strength increases above threshold amount “y”, modify the indicator sensation into pain. (The threshold level of “y” indicates the threshold for the creation of pain.)
• If multiple signals come in at the same time, make me more aware of the strongest signal (i.e. mute or tone down the other signals and indicating sensations).
As a generalized experience, people first notice problems in the body manifesting as a twinge, a little stiffness, or a bit of temporary soreness, etc. This is the first rule inaction. There is a problem, but it is a low level problem at this point, and so your body is making you aware of the issue. Most of us notice the indicating symptom, but quickly ignore it. “Oh, it’s just a little sore… it will go away on its own.” As the problem persists and progresses, the signal strength increases. Once the signal strength increases over a magical threshold, we experience real pain (rule two in action). It can be annoying low level constant pain, sharp pain, or anything in between. Indecently, the threshold level is the key to what we experience. If the signal strength is over the specified level, there is pain. If it is lower, there is no pain. This explains why some pain “magically” goes away (since it is under the threshold level).
This is a very simplistic, but accurate explanation of our experience regarding pains that come and go over a period of time (whether it is hours, days, or even years). And just because a pain “goes away,” doesn’t mean that the problem is gone… it can still exist, but at a level that is below that which causes you pain. The signaling is like a light switch… on or off depending on if the specific threshold level is met. If you have multiple areas of pain, then usually you will notice only the worst one. You can think of this as the squeaky wheel scenario. The worst pain is noticed until its level decreases so that it is now less than the level of the second worst pain. When that happens, the previous worst pain becomes the second worst pain and the previous second worst is now (in our awareness as) the current worst pain. Since we typically notice or feel the worst pain area, when they “change ranks” we also perceive a shift in the location of pain. “My neck stopped hurting, but now my shoulder hurts.” These forces are in constant flux and can easily change back. “My neck started hurting again, but my shoulder isn’t so bad any more.”
As a massage therapist, I know this can be confusing to understand. I’m sure if you think back to your history of dealing with pain, these loose interpretations of the body’s rules will make sense. If you interpret things differently, I’d love to hear about it. This information comes out of my practice working over many years with many different clients.
In addition to me rattling on, and hopefully providing you with useful information on what you experience, I want to leave you with one important message: If you get an indicator sensation that something is wrong, do not wait for it to develop into a real pain situation. It is far easier to eliminate small issues, than it is to eliminate issues that have entrenched themselves into your body. Do not ignore the little sensations of your body informing you something is starting to become an issue.
Ageing and pain
Some parts of the process of aging are greatly misunderstood (in my opinion). Some of the common questions I get from clients are:
• Isn’t pain just a part of growing old?
• Can lean muscle tissue be built as we get older?
• Doesn’t everyone get less flexible as they age?
On and on similar questions go… but these typify the current mindset. Let us develop a new frame of reference, a new option, and possibly new hope. As we get older certain things do happen which create a significant change in our body’s ability to cope with stress, change, and physical trauma. By and large, the biggest factor is our attitude and mental outlook. If these are bad, we are doomed to have a unpleasant time and our body will follow suit becoming stiff and painful. But since I’m not a psychologist, I’ll leave that subject to those better informed.
The second largest factor is that our body’s remodeling, recycling, and repairing mechanisms all slow down (or work less efficiently). They don’t typically turn off, just slow down. So healing from a broken bone (i.e. a fracture) takes longer, six months instead of two months. Building lean muscle happens, but takes more consistent effort over a longer period of time to achieve the same result in our sixties as it would in our twenties.
Restrictions (areas where tissue is stuck down, thick, non-stretchy, or just doesn’t move properly) are the cause of many problems in our (young or old) bodies. Restrictions are the result of trauma/injury, poor posture, over-use, or even non-use of our bodies. It is also very rare for someone to be free of any restrictions. Restrictions are the result of living in these physical bodies, and they tend to slowly accumulate. Many of them get worked out naturally by how we move and use our bodies… but some of them settle in for the long haul.
The restrictions that want to stay in the body for long periods of time are typically the ones that give us trouble as we get older. Since restrictions tend to accumulate, the areas of thickness grow in size and our ability to move decreases or takes more effort. These changes happen over long periods of time and cause pain, stiffness, and poor posture. But you can choose not to accept this fate for yourself. You can choose to move and be pain free as you grow older.
How you may ask? By effort and determination. The best thing to prevent restrictions from building up is to move your body through its available range of motion. The more you move in a particular direction, the easier that direction will become over time. Do that movement enough and your body remodels to make that movement even easier. If you constantly explore the available motion to your body, you will keep all that motion. If you explore the edges of your restrictions, you will slowly push that boundary back and gain more available motion. This works at any age, but the changes are far easier when you are young.
So whatever age you happen to be, demand more motion from your body and over time you will be rewarded by easier movement, less pain, and greater mobility. Be consistent and dilligent in your efforts, and your effort will pay off.
Most people that get massage or some other kind of body work hear that they need to drink lots of water afterward to help flush out the released “toxins.” Well as a curious consumer, you want to know what those toxins are, and what the reasoning behind the extra water intake is. If you ask most massage therapists, you will likely get one of the following two answers:
• “You know… toxins.” – Read this answer as the person doesn’t have the foggiest idea.
• “Lactic acid.” – While most people know this answer as a rote response, most physiologists would only agree if the person has recently been physically active.
In reality, most of the “toxins” that are released are just normal waste from regular cell activity. Each cell produces waste during its normal activity and metabolism, and excretes this outside its cell membrane. From there it is located in what is called the “interstitial space” which is the space located between the cells. Through the activity of your muscles, the cells and the interstitial spaces are squeezed (or pumped) and the fluid is moved out of the area. The fluid then is typically directed to the lymph system, where it gets collected, concentrated, and dealt with. (If you don’t know, the lymph system is the second line of defense of our bodies for dealing with pathogens, viruses, bacteria, etc. since it houses a lot of white blood cells. The first line of defense is the skin, which prevents a lot of pathogens from entering the body.)
When you receive massage or bodywork, cell waste (which is already in your system) gets released at a more rapid rate than normal. Your body has to deal with the larger amount of material within the same amount of time, and that is what can cause you to feel tired, sick, or sore afterward. Fascia, the connective tissue of the body, is one of the components that is responsible for this phenomena. Fascia’s main role in the body is as a divider and connector of body parts, organs, cells, etc. On first thought, divide and connect seem opposites, and indeed they are. But fascia does both at the same time. For understanding this concept, you can represent fascia as a piece of double-sided tape, and our two muscles can be represented by two balloons. When you put the double-sided tape onto one balloon, you now have a small extra layer of protection (to the balloon) where the tape is located. This barrier separates the balloon from anything on the other side of the tape. Now add the second balloon to the free side of the tape (so that your model is balloon/tape/balloon). The tape is doing the job of protection/separation for each individual balloon from the other, and at the same time it is connecting the two balloons to each other. Fascia fills this role for individual cells, groups of cells, organs, muscles, etc. within our bodies.
Fascia, when acting as a protective barrier is not impermeable like a solid wall. A more descriptive analogy would be a net made of rope. When stretched beyond its normal dimensions, the holes of a rope net narrow in one direction and lengthen in the other. Thus the effective opening of the holes are made smaller, allowing smaller and smaller items to pass through. When the net is released back to its normal shape, the holes effectively open up to normal size, and allow larger items through. When you receive massage, and the fascia is being restored to its normal shape, it is akin to many small faucets being opened up simultaneously causing an on-rush of fluid and waste that our systems have to deal with immediately. Being properly hydrated allows the processing of the waste to happen most efficiently. And since most people are slightly dehydrated, it is a good idea to drink extra water after your massage to maintain a proper hydration level.