When you live with chronic pain, lots of friends probably suggest getting massage or bodywork to feel better. And maybe you’ve even had more than a few massages over the last several years. But sometimes massage isn’t a pleasant experience—it might hurt during the massage, or you might be very sore for a few days after the massage.
These are all things I have experienced too, and since then I’ve come up with some ways to make massage work more effectively for myself and other people who live with chronic pain. And as a massage therapist myself, I definitely take these ideas into account when I see clients who live with chronic pain!
- Less is more. Less pressure is better when you get on the table with chronic pain. (This will be different than someone needing help with short-term, situational pain.) Find a massage therapist who is comfortable working gently, and who doesn’t need to fix all the aches and pains in the first sixty minutes. Know that you do not need a deep tissue massage to relax, and be comfortable asking for a relaxation or “Swedish” massage. It will help as much or more than deep pressure!
- It is especially helpful to find a therapist who specializes in massage for chronic pain, as they will be most understanding of your challenges. Use this search as a starting point (although you may want to narrow it down to your local area): http://www.amtamassage.org/findamassage/results.html?q=chronic+pain&l=&searchcat=famt
- When you’re looking for a new long-term therapist, ask them what percentage of their clients have chronic pain. It’s just so different to give a massage designed to alleviate chronic vs. acute pain. When you find a therapist whose patients with chronic pain comprise at least 50% of their practice, you’re on the right track.
- You might even ask around to see if you can find a massage therapist who also lives with chronic pain. This won’t be listed in a directory, but sometimes friends and family will have a lead on a therapist. When the person giving the massage has experienced their own chronic pain, they typically have a whole different understanding of your concerns.
- Be willing to try different types of massage than what you’ve always tried. For example, one of the types I practice is called myofascial release—be sure find someone who uses the “John Barnes approach,” which is generally a more gentle version of the work. Physical and occupational therapists also get trained in this bodywork, so sometimes you can get it covered by insurance if your doc will write a prescription.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for special accommodations during your massage. For example, I have a few clients who struggle to turn from their belly to their back. So they start on their back because it’s easier to turn from back to belly. Or if heat on the table makes you feel looser, be sure to request it. On the other hand, some of us get more uncomfortable with too much heat, so be sure to request a cool table. No detail is too small if it means you get the help you need.
- Choose a massage therapist whose office is relatively close to home. Sounds silly, but after you get relaxed you don’t want a long, long drive that might make you feel tense again.
The bottom line is that a great massage starts with great communication. This is even more important when you live with chronic pain. Be sure your therapist is open to requests, and remember that you are the most important person in that treatment room. Your therapist really does want you to be clear about what you need, so never be worried about asking.
Here’s to good health, great relaxation, and minimizing pain!
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