Reading a social media post about body treatments and chronic pain prompted this blog post, simply because I think that many might need to know why certain soft tissue treatments (e.g. massage) are better than others for certain ailments and which ones should perhaps be considered in the case of chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.
When choosing a body treatment, the therapist should be asked what techniques they use, and you could go as far as to ask them why they believe that technique is preferred over another, for example, deep vs superficial, fast vs slow.
We should never underestimate the importance of the vast differences between techniques and the depth they reach within the body. It is often believed that deep is good, pain is sometimes beneficial, and redness indicates stimulation – which can all have good and bad after-effects, depending on the situation.
What I do know now, through following research done by the Fascia Research Society, is that slow and steady is best for chronic pain, soft and gentle is best for traumatised bodies, and combining the two brings the best results for someone who suffers constantly from flare-ups and pain cycles.
I believe the aim should always be to avoid re-traumatising the body, and have it start looking for the feel good times rather than shutting down to keep the pain away. When you’re noticing the positive response to a treatment, it leads to the feeling of being more alive rather than just managing pain and surviving.
The reason slow and soft is best for chronic pain conditions is that this touch has been shown to affect the limbic system positively (this system is considered the seat of emotion in the human brain). It brings about positive emotional responses, which lead to feelings of safety and relaxation.
This sort of touch reduces avoidance and stress biomarkers through deactivating the systems related to stress (cortisol production, heart rate spikes, etc.) It has a direct influence on the neuroendocrine signals, which includes activation of your endogenous opioids (your natural pain relief system) and stimulates oxytocin and dopamine pathways.
Slow and light touch techniques affect the C fibres (a class of nerve fibre found in the somatic sensory system that accounts for the slow, lasting and spread out second pain) like no other touch method can. C-fibres like gentle, slow movement and research has shown (with fMRI imaging) that the speed and intensity of the type of touch will affect different parts of the brain and nerve fibres, which will in turn have different effects on the body (not all types of touch is beneficial for certain conditions).
So, in closing, it’s not so much that I want to promote the techniques I use over those of others, but rather the idea of learning to use the correct techniques for the condition we’re battling with. Perhaps we can start by listening to the subtle messages the body sends rather than telling it what we think it needs?