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Massage for Stress and Pain

The Role of Massage Intervention in Stress and Musculoskeletal Pain Management

There is increased awareness of stress management when dealing with musculoskeletal pain in clinical practices. This blog talks about how stress is associated with pain and how massage treatment can be beneficial for that.

Stress and musculoskeletal pain

People can normally feel stressed when facing challenging or unknown situations, such as major life events, problems at work, or overtraining. An acute stress response increases sympathetic nerve activities and secretes stress hormones, which prepares the body ready to fight back or flee away from the situation. That’s why it is also called the fight or flight response. In general speaking, an acute stress response is helpful to save the body from a life-threatening event.
Stress can be a problem when it lasts for a long time. Chronically elevated stress hormones, especially cortisol, concentration in the bloodstream impair immune function and induce pro-inflammatory responses. This increases the likelihood of musculoskeletal injury, slowing down the healing process, aggravating pain intensity, and causing idiopathic pain. The worst part is that the feeling of pain itself is also a source of stress and contributes further stress responses to our body.

How massage can help

unnamedMassage has been used as a complementary intervention along with physical treatment for musculoskeletal pain. Massage intervention may provide immediate pain relief. It helps prepare people for exercise or other physical treatment to have continuous improvement.

The role of massage in stress management has also been evidenced. A single session of massage intervention demonstrates positive reductions in cortisol levels. This acute effect is reproducible even in successive massage sessions. Therefore, by managing stress and musculoskeletal pain, massage intervention benefits mental and physical health.

How to know if I’m too stressed?

There are objective and subjective methods to find out if an individual is too stressed. Objectively, heart rate and breathing patterns are good indicators. Elevated resting heart rate or fast breathing can be a sign of stress response. It is probably better to check these at a particular time of the day—for instance, first thing in the morning.

Subjectively, feelings of the body are also an effective way to monitor stress levels. Some common physical signs are headaches, muscle tension, or sensitive skin to be touched. However, not everyone experiences stress in the same way. Other clues are changes in sleep patterns, feeling exhausted, or difficulty concentrating. Self-monitoring how the body and feelings fluctuate is always recommended because you know your body better than anyone else.

In conclusion, there can be a mutual relationship between stress and musculoskeletal pain. With massage intervention, we are expecting to reduce stress levels and provide pain relief. This help prepares the body for exercise or other physical treatment. At StudioXphys, we provide a tailored exercise program and manual physical therapy as a multidisciplinary team. Our care will help you overcome musculoskeletal pain by looking after both mental and physical well-being.

Brian Lin
Exercise Physiologist & Remedial Massage Therapist
Brian Lin Physiologist and Massage Therapist

References:

  1. Hartzell MM, Dodd CD, Gatchel RJ. Stress and musculoskeletal injury. The handbook of stress and health: A guide to research and practice. 2017 Apr 19:210-22.

  2. Hannibal KE, Bishop MD. Chronic stress, cortisol dysfunction, and pain: A psychoneuroendocrine rationale for stress management in pain rehabilitation. Physical Therapy. 2014 Dec 1;94(12):1816-25.

  3. Kong LJ, Zhan HS, Cheng YW, Yuan WA, Chen B, Fang M. Massage therapy for neck and shoulder pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013 Jan 1:1-10.

  4. Effectiveness of massage therapy for chronic, non-malignant pain: a review. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2007 Jun 1;4(2):165-79.

  5. Listing M, Krohn M, Liezmann C, Kim I, Reisshauer A, Peters E, Klapp BF, Rauchfuss M. The efficacy of classical massage on stress perception and cortisol following primary treatment of breast cancer. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2010 Apr;13(2):165-73.

  6. Kim IH, Kim TY, Ko YW. The effect of a scalp massage on stress hormone, blood pressure, and heart rate of healthy female. Journal of physical therapy science. 2016;28(10):2703-7.

  7. Moraska A, Pollini RA, Boulanger K, Brooks MZ, Teitlebaum L. Physiological adjustments to stress measures following massage therapy: a review of the literature. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2010 Dec 1;7(4):409-18.

Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Stress [internet]. Canberra (AU): Health Direct; [reviewed 2021]. Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/stress

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