To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “The Role of Massage Therapy in Addressing Chronic Pain,” by Whitney Lowe, in the June 2011 issue. Article summary: To help clients with chronic pain conditions, it is helpful to understand how the conditions come about and the client’s experience of the pain.

by Susan Baer

When injury occurs, pain messages are sent to the brain and muscles in the injured area contract to guard against further damage. Muscles often go into spasm, further reducing circulation, which deprives tissues of oxygen, thus increasing the damage and sending more pain signals.

There are several ways massage and heat help reduce pain.

Massage stretches and compresses muscles, which activates proprioceptors—sensors that detect pressure and movement in tissue, and whose messages help block the reception of pain signals in the brain and tell the spinal cord to relax the muscles being worked.

Heat activates thermoreceptors, which detect changes in skin temperature, and whose messages also help block the reception of pain signals and cause increased circulation. Increasing circulation brings fresh oxygen to injured tissues and carries away metabolic debris that contributes to pain and spasm. (Contraindications to heat therapy include acute injury, swelling, fever and broken skin.)

By applying heat and compression simultaneously to muscles that are locked in the pain-spasm-pain cycle, massage engages four separate pathways that reduce pain, decrease spasm and increase circulation.

Susan Baer developed The Thumbby™ Soft Massage Cone (patent-pending), which can be used dry or with oil or lotion, and used heated, chilled or at room temperature. Hot Thumbby™ massage enables practitioners to bring heat and pressure directly to muscles that are in spasm. For more information and a free training video, visit