Can regular massage be a painkiller?

We all know that a massage makes us ‘feel better’, even if we don’t know why. Yes, it’s relaxing and it’s great for aches and pains but what about the sort of pain that must be managed with strong painkillers? Can something as simple as a massage session really make such a difference to a long-term pain condition?

You might be surprised.

Think about one of the most common types of pain, one that many of us will suffer from in our life time. Chronic low back pain – pain in the lower back that last for three months or more – is something many people end up going to their doctor and getting painkillers for.

Sometimes it’s caused by a condition like osteoarthritis or a problem with a disc, and it can stop you living a normal life or at the very least make life difficult. Everything from working to walking can be affected and the less exercise you’re able to manage, the more pain you could find yourself in as the muscles become inactive. So you’re taking more and more painkillers and the cycle continues.

Sometimes, your GP will give you painkillers containing opioids like codeine to help you manage chronic back pain, and although they can be effective they do have side effects. Thankfully, research has shown that by including regular massage in your routine, you can start to decrease the number of painkillers you need to manage your back pain, although this isn’t recommended without doctor’s approval obviously.

Massage therapy has a long list of beneficial effects on your body, and some of these can be helpful when you’re dealing with chronic pain. A massage session can relax you, promote tissue repair, improve blood circulation and of course it makes you feel good – a benefit you should never underestimate.

Research showed that when combined with exercise, massage helped people with back pain become less anxious as well as reducing the pain they felt. At a pain management clinic in Western New York, sixty chronic low back pain patients were split into two groups. They all carried on with their usual pain management but one group also received regular massage therapy, twice a week for four weeks.

The people who took part all recorded their pain levels before and after a massage on a scale of one to ten. There was a significant difference between the pre-and post-treatment pain rating in the group that had regular massage, but the control group who carried on as normal reported no changes to their pain levels.

Read the research for yourself; massage actually works!

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