Within massage, there is a framework of healing parameters—and if you understand how they work then you can create the change you seek with massage for inflammation.
Understanding and being successful with pain-management massage therapy is a passion of mine. I have studied and observed how the acute-to-chronic inflamed body responds to massage and different types of applications for 30 years now. When teaching about how to work with these higher levels of inflammation, there is a statement I give because it is has proven itself valid time and again:
“When it comes to these depleting cycles of inflammation, the body can fight pain or heal; it won’t do both very well at the same time. Because of this conflicting outcome, we must be very selective in how, where, when and why we choose to apply massage. And then even with the best of technique applications, frequency is the key component to changing chronic inflammatory patterns.”
Treatment frequency is probably the most overlooked piece when offering effective pain management to those we work with at the massage table.
What Is Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation for the anatomical system is something most manual therapists can perceive under their hands. This ongoing inflammatory process feels like unyielding tissues that are unable to decrease in tension or that have limited pain relief when receiving massage. With repeat clients, we can observe these patterns returning time and again in the body.
The authors of the book “Chronic Inflammation” wrote, “Chronic inflammation is also referred to as slow, long-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years. Generally, the extent and effects of chronic inflammation vary with the cause of the injury and the ability of the body to repair and overcome the damage.”
This specific phrase of that definition, “The ability of the body to repair and overcome the damage” is the basis of this article.
This ability is not referring to the pain your client complains of and treatment of those areas; it is more about how the body can heal itself and the overall process it needs to do that. This ability is the capability, power or skill you are attempting to create with your hands.
Within massage, there is a framework of healing parameters—and if you understand how they work then you can positively impact this ability to repair and overcome damage. While comprising several factors, this ability is the key to create the change you seek with chronic inflammation.
Two of the important parts of that framework are having effective knowledge combined with manual skills that decrease pain without increasing inflammation and treatment frequency.
For several years within my massage career, I kept seeking for more knowledge and better skillsets to help break chronic inflammation and pain patterns. I did have treatment-to-treatment success, but was still searching for what would create a level of long-term success with breaking chronic inflammatory cycles.
It was only when I paired that experience and knowledge with treatment frequency that I saw this ability in action. When treatments were more frequent, I observed that inflammation could be reduced enough that the energy the body was using to fight in this chronic state was atomically switched over and converted into the energy needed to heal itself.
Massage for Inflammation
As a practitioner, natural healing to me means I understand how to shift the way the body uses its own energy from fighting pain and inflammation over to helping the body heal itself.
I compare this ability for the body to heal to basic accounting with incomes and expenses as an object lesson to understanding energy as something that moves from positive to negative in this article for this publication, “Inflammation: The Significance of Energy Depletion.”
I think the greatest lesson I have learned about massage and healing in my career isn’t about how to acquire more energy to heal or to try to push the body to change; rather, it is about how to redirect the energy the body already has from fighting pain to healing pain.
It is unrealistic to believe we can have an unending pool of energy to always draw from, although you see many people attempting to live life this way. We all have limitations to energy, and without regulations or restrictions we can quickly burn ourselves out, deplete our reserves, and become exhausted and ill.
Those who live with chronic inflammation and high levels of pain understand this very well. What they don’t understand is how to change it. That is where massage and frequency can shift the energy and ability for the body to change.
The presence of unresolved inflammation in the muscles, ligaments and tendons is simply the body trying to do its best to keep up with fighting pain and inflammation but not having enough energy to direct to finalizing inflammatory processes.
Massage therapy can create a positive shift in this energy by manually reducing pain and inflammation, giving the body a chance to rest. With the burning demand of inflammatory and pain processes subsided, the body acquires a small, temporary energy surplus to use towards healing.
This energy surplus is the change our clients experience after the session. They feel more energy and vitality, and experience better sleep and reduced symptoms of pain, depression, anxiety, and have improved function on several levels both mentally and physically.
The more times this energy surplus is created, the more the body can divert this energy to healing and stopping inflammation. Frequency then becomes the key to real change in chronic situations.
However, even with such positive responses, there are some issues that occur with trying to increase the frequency of treatments.
Frequency Commitment Issues
Most repeat clients typically come in for a massage once or twice a month. As you well know, they also return with the same level of pain and inflammation they left with after their most recent session.
If the client will compound this ability to shift energy with more frequency of massage, there is less backtracking that occurs. The frequency of treatment received can begin to push that small, positive energy exchange further into healing.
This is where the magic happens. When success overlaps with frequency, the body begins to heal.
It was only after I requested that someone come in for a massage every week as a way to jump ahead of the pain they were dealing with that I figured out this missing piece.
There are typically a couple of dilemmas to work through when it comes to getting clients to commit to weekly or frequent treatments.
One dilemma is if you are booking out weeks in advance for appointments, finding a way to have the flexibility in your schedule to accommodate new weekly appointments can be difficult. It took some time for me to figure out determine the scheduling systems that allowed me to manage these appointments. I learned to reserve appointments and filled them from a cancellation list I kept if they remained available.
Another dilemma is it can feel like a heavy responsibility to make this type of regular commitment as a therapist. This concept of frequency and healing doesn’t have a specific time limit. For my practice, the client’s body and level of healing determined the length of this commitment. Continued weekly treatment could be as little as a few weeks for some clients up to several months for others. Trusting the process was something I learned to accept.
Another challenge I faced was convincing the client to financially invest in themselves. I was nervous to ask a client to spend much more money on my services.
I found as I committed to a client to assist them on their journey toward health, they would willingly commit to invest in themselves because they truly wanted the difference. Within three to four weeks of therapy, the client felt and observed these small improvements and chose to continue.
Commitment and Change
Overall, being able to work more frequently with a client lets you get to know their body at a much deeper level and uncover driving forces for issues you were perhaps unable to identify when working with the same issue repeatedly. As the body adapts, changes and heals, more will surface to work with, compounding the ability for transformation.
This entire process of commitment and change can be extremely rewarding to you as a massage therapist.
I will end this article with another of my favorite quotes: “Mother Nature’s healing rhythm is a two-step-forward, one-step-back dance. When repeated often enough, the client journey will solidly progress toward health one forward step at a time.”
About the Author
Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 30 years. She is the owner of Massage Business Methods and the developer of PPS (Pain Patterns and Solutions) Seminars CE courses and an NCBTMB Approved CE Provider.