So how does massage reduce pain? – Part 1 15 Jun 2020
I said in a previous post that scientists are interested in finding out how massage works. So if we accept that massage reduces muscle pain, that leaves the question, "How does massage reduce muscle pain?".
In 1965, Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall outlined a scientific theory about psychological influence on pain perception; the ‘gate control theory’. According to the gate control theory, pain signals are not free to reach the brain as soon as they are generated at the injured tissues or sites. They need to encounter certain ‘neurological gates’ at the spinal cord level and these gates determine whether the pain signals should reach the brain or not. In other words, pain is perceived when the gate gives way to the pain signals and it is less intense or not at all perceived when the gate closes for the signals to pass through.
Cutaneous mechano-receptors are stimulated by touch (massage) and transmit information within large never fibres to the spinal cord. These impulses block the passage of painful stimuli entering the same spinal segment along small, slowly conducting neurons.
This theory gives the explanation for why someone finds relief by rubbing or massaging an injured or a painful area. For example, the pain gate theory explains "how" a child feels better after mum or dad intuitively rub their knee when they have fallen over.
In summary massage produces short term pain relief by being a particularly effective trigger for the pain gate process.
Melzack R, & Wall PD (1965). Pain mechanisms: a new theory. Science (New York, N.Y.), 150 (3699), 971-9 Moayedi M, & Davis KD (2013). Theories of pain: from specificity to gate control. Journal of neurophysiology, 109 (1), 5-12
Jacobs M. (1960) Massage for the relief of pain: anatomical and physiological considerations. Physical Therapy Review, 40: 93-8
Melzack R, Wall PD. Pain mechanisms: a new theory. Science. 1965 Nov 19;150(3699):971–979.
Wells PE, Frampton V, Bowsher D. (1988) Pain: Management and Control in Physiotherapy. Heinemann Medical. Chapter 13.
Watson J. (1982) Pain mechanisms: a review. 1. Characteristics of the peripheral receptors. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy. 27:135-43