According to surveys by the National Institute for Health and the American Massage Therapy Association, Swedish massage therapy is the most popular type of bodywork in the United States. The treatment involves rubbing the muscles with long, gliding strokes, kneading, friction, tapping, and vibrations that apply pressure between muscles and bones in the direction of blood returning to the heart. The primary goal of Swedish massage is to relax and help restore the entire body, but its benefits go well beyond relaxation.
Several studies regarding the benefits of Swedish massage for pain relief have shown improvements for sufferers of multiple sclerosis, chronic and acute back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, cancer and post-operative pain, especially for those recovering from heart surgery.
The effectiveness of massage therapy for pain relief and management, coupled with the lack of unpleasant side effects of pain medications, have made massage therapy more widely accepted by the medical community for addressing pain relief and management.
- commit to regular massage therapy
- find an experienced, knowledgeable massage therapist
- ask about incorporating other massage techniques
- share your health history
- regularly provide feedback
- switch from one massage therapist to another
- underestimate regular headaches
- be afraid to change things up
- immediately return to physical activities
- expect massage therapy to replace physical therapy
Massage therapy, like any other treatment, takes time to produce results. One massage may temporarily relieve pain, but the results will probably not be long lasting. Because maintenance is key, you should continue with your treatments for maximum benefits.
There is more to massage therapy than just knowing how to give a back rub. Licensed massage therapists will have the knowledge and experience to develop and maintain a treatment plan customized to treat chronic and acute pain. They should also be able to prognosticate the number of treatments that may be needed over a determined period of time for pain treatment and maintenance.
Trigger point massage therapy is effective for treating specific pain points where muscle fibers have been tightened due to overuse and injury. Deep tissue strokes are great for addressing stubborn knots that further instigate pain. Adding these techniques to a Swedish massage can help subdue overall pain and improve recovery time.
Intake is always important before any type of therapy. If you have a diagnosed medical condition, you should be especially thorough. Let your therapist know about all previous injuries – even those that occurred decades ago. Because all our muscles are connected, some past injuries can affect muscular pain well into the future.
It is as important to provide feedback during your massage as it is to share your progress over the course of your treatment plan. For example, an uncomfortable massage will cause your muscles to tense up, which is counterproductive to your therapy. If an area is uncomfortable or overly sensitive during a massage, let your therapist know so they can alter the pressure or technique accordingly. Before each follow-up appointment, share with your therapist any changes in pain location and intensity to help them assess the effectiveness of your treatment plan.
Developing a relationship with your massage therapist has a number of benefits. The comfort level and familiarity will help you relax and sessions will be more effective since there will be prior knowledge of treatment preferences and medical history. The consistent flow of feedback will improve future sessions for longer-lasting results.
Massage therapy can help reduce the frequency of tension headaches brought on by stress. Massage has also been shown to help those experiencing chronic headache and migraine pain by loosening up muscles to relax trigger points and muscle spasms.
If you’re not seeing positive results, it may be time to change things up, but give yourself 4-6 massage therapy sessions before evaluating your treatment plan. Changes in massage pressure, length of session or appointment frequency can all affect pain management. People with chronic myofascial pain (where pressure on sensitive points in your muscles causes pain in seemingly unrelated parts) are most likely to tweak their program for maximum benefits.
Resist the urge to work through your pain, whether it stems from work or while enjoying physical activities. Recovery takes time and it’s important to avoid backtracking your recovery. It’s also a bad idea to exercise immediately after a massage. Exerting your muscles when they are loose can significantly increase the likelihood of sustaining an injury.
Physical therapy and massage therapy complement each other very well. As physical therapy works to strengthen weak or injured muscles, a Swedish massage can correct any imbalance that may temporarily be experienced. Substituting one for the other can backtrack the effectiveness and timing of recovery.
Massage therapy can be a powerful tool to help you take charge of your health. A growing body of research shows that Swedish massage therapy can be effective in treating pain caused by various ailments and situations, so talk to your doctor about integrating this natural remedy into your treatment plan. No matter the extensiveness of your treatment plan, the key is to remember that pain management is a marathon, not a race. The more attentive you and your massage therapist are to your progress, the more effective your treatment plan will be.