Unlocking Relief: Navigating Chronic Pain with Massage Therapy

About Claire Bonneau

Claire is a registered nurse with experience in freelance medical writing. She is very passionate about geriatric nursing and seniors care and education (it is her favorite area of nursing). She worked with many seniors in a variety of medical settings to provide high-erLATEST POSTS. Learn more about her HERE.

20.9% of adults in the U.S. experienced chronic pain in 2021, while 6.9% experienced high-impact chronic pain that results in “substantial restriction to daily activities,” according to one report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [1]

For older adults and seniors, chronic pain might sound like a non-negotiable part of growing older. However, there are plenty of ways to manage it, including massage.

From the effects of chronic pain to the value of geriatric massage — and even at-home techniques and tools, here’s how pain can be successfully managed.

The Effects of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is “pain experienced on most days, or every day, for three months or more.” While chronic pain can stem from a known cause — such as arthritis, it can also happen without an obvious injury or disease. [2]

lady with back pain

According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic pain symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and trouble sleeping, to name just a few.

As a result, such pain can affect your mood, productivity, and relationships, making it extremely difficult for some to participate in their lives fully.

Common types of chronic pain include arthritis (joint pain), back pain, or muscle pain all over (fibromyalgia), to highlight a few.

For those who experience chronic pain, the pain can be described in many different ways, from an aching feeling to burning, shooting, squeezing, stiffness, or throbbing. [3]

The Cleveland Clinic points out that chronic pain often leads to other symptoms and conditions, including anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and mood swings, thus underlining how chronic pain can impact an individual. 

According to one news post from the Mayo Clinic, geriatricians like Dr. Brandon Verdoorn sees a wide range of effects of chronic pain on older patients, highlighting the impact that it can have on day-to-day life.

“Anything from sleep disturbance to low mood, social isolation, functional limitations — pain preventing folks from doing their daily activities,” Dr. Verdoorn said.

While short-lived pain can easily be managed with methods such as ice, heat, or over-the-counter medication, severe, persistent pain or pain that affects function should be discussed with your healthcare provider, advises the article. [4]

Talking with a medical professional can not only help in developing a pain management plan but can help in determining the underlying cause of the pain, too. 

The Benefits of Massage

Regarding chronic pain management, Dr. Verdoorn notes that this often involves nonmedication strategies. This might mean physical therapy, exercise, and acupuncture, though strategies using medication may be used, too.

Massage is another option that may help. Healthline explains that massages are a ‘complementary or alternative therapy.’ While they’re not considered part of conventional medicine, they “may be an additional intervention that helps manage your health symptoms.” 

couple getting a back massage

The Arthritis Foundation lists several instances where the research backs up the back massage benefits for pain management. [5]

Regarding the use of massage for arthritis in hand, a study conducted at the University of Miami found that a 15-minute moderate-pressure massage daily reduced pain and anxiety and improved grip strength in 22 adults diagnosed with hand or wrist arthritis.

Massage can also benefit those experiencing pain with fibromyalgia, too — a 2014 review of nine randomized trials published in PLoS One found that massage therapy for five weeks (or more) significantly improved pain, anxiety, and depression in those with fibromyalgia.

Healthline explains the value of geriatric massage, a type specifically geared towards an older individual. [6]

As such, a massage therapist will consider an individual’s age and specific health conditions to tailor the massage to their needs, though it’s noted that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ due to everyone having unique health situations.

Healthline goes on to list the several benefits of a geriatric massage, from stress reduction to an improved mental outlook, better sleep, and pain management.

Regarding the research behind the matter, Healthline highlights several studies, including one in the International Journal of Older People Nursing.

The study looked at 14 studies on aging adults living in residential care who received massages and concluded that massage “can enhance the health and well-being of adults in residential care.” 

At-home Massage Solutions 

There are plenty of options for older adults looking to relieve chronic pain at home. A massage gun, for instance, can help improve circulation and loosen up stiffness around joints and muscles.

With time and careful use, you may notice benefits such as improved tissue relaxation and muscle-joint function. [6]

However, it’s essential to remember that there are potential downsides to using such a tool, from the risks of incorrect use to the chances of aggravating injury or other chronic conditions chronic pain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can worsen with the use of a massage gun.

With that in mind, it’s always a good idea to check with a medical professional beforehand to ensure that using a massage gun is right for you. 

Apart from tools such as massage guns, using back support for women can offer additional relief from discomfort and ensure proper posture.

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Hiring a masseuse who provides a mobile service can also be a great consideration when looking to have regular massages at home.

If you’re able, learning self-massage techniques presents another worthy option for pain relief, too.

“Self-massage is using your hands, tools, or objects to work on sore muscles and adhesions instead of seeing a licensed massage therapist or bodywork professional,” says Elliot Ledley, a massage therapist in New York City.

This can be done in multiple ways, from using a foam roller to massage the legs to using your hands to massage your head, neck, or feet.

Using items such as a tennis ball can be particularly useful in massaging harder-to-reach areas, such as your shoulders, explains Healthline.

For many older adults, experiencing chronic pain can seem like a part of growing older, though it’s important to realize that you don’t have to suffer.

You can determine whether massage can benefit you by talking with a medical professional.

FAQs

How does massage therapy help alleviate chronic pain?

Massage therapy increases blood flow, reduces muscle tension, and promotes the release of endorphins, all of which can contribute to pain relief and relaxation in those suffering from chronic pain conditions.

Are there specific massage techniques best suited for chronic pain?

Yes, techniques like deep tissue massage, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy are especially effective for addressing chronic pain issues. It’s important to consult with a professional therapist to determine the best approach for your specific needs.

How often should one get a massage for chronic pain management?

The frequency can vary based on individual needs. Some people benefit from weekly sessions, while others might opt for bi-weekly or monthly treatments. It’s essential to work with your therapist to establish a routine that supports your pain management goals.

Resources

1. One in five US adults suffer from chronic pain: CDC [Internet]. Business Insurance. [cited 2023 Jul 20]. Available from: https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20230414/NEWS08/912356807/One-in-five-US-adults-suffer-from-chronic-pain-CDC-#:~:text=In%202021%2C%2020.9%25%20of%20adults

2. noble.dana. Chronic pain: How it works [Internet]. Mayo Clinic Press. 2023. Available from: https://mcpress.mayoclinic.org/opioids/how-chronic-pain-works/

3. Cleveland Clinic. Chronic Pain: Symptoms, Treatments [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4798-chronic-pain

4. Howland J. Mayo Clinic Minute: Helping older adults manage chronic pain [Internet]. Mayo Clinic News Network. 2020. Available from: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-helping-older-adults-manage-chronic-pain/

5. Benefits of Massage [Internet]. www.arthritis.org. Available from: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/complementary-therapies/natural-therapies/benefits-of-massage

6. Geriatric Massage: Benefits, Considerations, Cost & More [Internet]. Healthline. 2021. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/geriatric-massage#benefits

7. https://www.facebook.com/lukasz.deszczulka. 12 Massage Gun Benefits To Know About (And A Few Drawbacks) [Internet]. massagegunadvice.com. 2021 [cited 2023 Jul 20]. Available from: https://massagegunadvice.com/massage-gun-benefits/#Relaxation_and_Overall_Wellness_of_Body_and_Mind

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