When one or more muscle groups is tense and aching, reaching for a dose of over-the-counter pain medication may seem like the simplest solution.
However, these medications can come with unwanted side effects. Massage therapy can help relieve pain and stiffness in a natural manner. (Note, though, that this article is not meant to replace professional medical advice and that anyone in pain should check with his or her physician before beginning or ending any type of medication.)
Before you grab a couple of pills to ease your pain, it can be important to first understand the difference between the two main categories of over-the-counter pain medication: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen.
Both NSAIDs and acetaminophen can be used to help relieve pain and reduce fever, but only NSAIDs possess anti-inflammatory properties as well.
One of the most well-known brands of acetaminophen is Tylenol, and you can find NSAIDs sold under brand names such as Advil and Aleve. The over-the-counter availability of such medication may make them seem completely safe, but there are possible side effects to both drugs.
For example, NSAIDs have been tied to side effects such as increased risk of heart disease, renal complications, ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. As for acetaminophen, a recent study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Leeds found that long-term use of this over-the-counter pain medication resulted in an increased risk of heart, gastrointestinal and kidney problems.
One surprising side effect of acetaminophen is that it may not only decrease pain and fever, but also diminish the ability to feel emotions. A study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University and reported in the April issue of Psychological Science indicates that people who took acetaminophen had less emotional reactions to both very pleasant and very disturbing images than people who took a placebo.
“This means that using Tylenol or similar products might have broader consequences than previously thought,” said the study’s lead author Geoff Durso in a press release from Ohio State University. “Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotional reliever.”
Massage for Pain
For people in pain who do not wish to subject themselves to the potential side effects of acetaminophen and NSAIDs, massage therapy can provide a valuable and effective alternative. According to Patricia M. Donohue, former chair of the Swedish massage program at the New York College of Health Professions, massage therapy can tap into the body’s own all-natural ability to relieve pain.
“Massage therapy releases endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins,” said Donohue, who now acts as a massage continuing education provider and consultant to INR Seminars. “These are the body’s own naturally produced opiates, which improve blood circulation and cellular activities to encourage body wellness.”
The next time your body is aching, consider booking a massage rather than reaching for acetaminophen or NSAIDs—and skip the risk for side effects.
About the Author
Brandi Schlossberg is an avid bodywork client and full-time journalist based in Reno, Nevada. She has written on many topics for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Ronald McDonald House and Massage Volunteers Unite.”