PAIN – What is it?
Over the many years we have been practicing professional massage we have found that people talk about their aches and pains but do not really understand the causes.
What we often tell them is that Pain is a message to Pay Attention Inside Now. This is a message we should not ignore or put off until later. Unfortunately in a busy world of work; raising a family and maintaining a household, many do not have the time to attend to the pain so they mask it through medications such as aspirin and the like.
Pain is the result of sensory nerve impulses reaching the brain (parietal lobe areas) and being interpreted as “pain”. This area of the brain is actually where pain nerve signals are interpreted or felt even though we experience it in the muscles, joints or organs. Sometimes, when a person is “paralyzed” the nerve pathways to and from the brain are damaged and the sensory impulses are not received and therefore not interpreted or “felt” and motor impulses are not properly transmitted so muscles do not contract.
What causes the pain impulses to be sent to the brain?
Pain results when we are out of balance. In short, pain is caused when
a) there is not enough of something reaching the cells
b) there is too much of something surrounding the cells, or
c) the walls of the cells are broken.
Not enough of what?
Lack of blood flow to an area is called ischemia. Lack of oxygen to an area is called hypoxia. Both cause pain. The bloodstream brings life to the cells. The nutrition needed as fuel and oxygen necessary to burn it are carried to the cells by the blood vessels. Block a blood vessel, like a blood clot will and you have extreme pain. Squeeze a blood vessel, like tight muscles can, and you have reduced blood flow and reduced nutrition. In either case, the cells downstream will not get what they need to operate and begin to die. To save their lives, the cells release chemicals that stimulate nerve receptors that tell the brain there is a problem and to do something about it. This, of course, can save your life. If we medicate the pain and mask the symptoms we are treating the symptoms and ignoring the causes. The intensity of pain felt due to blood clots can not be ignored for long. Blood clots are life threatening.
Too much of what?
Cells take the nutrients and oxygen delivered by the bloodstream and manufacture things such as hormones, proteins, and enzymes and muscle tissue. These manufacturing processes produce waste products that have to be carried away by the blood and lymphatic systems. If the blood circulation is poor waste products build up. If there is lack of movement the lymph can’t circulate and there is waste buildup. This leads to pain impulses to the brain telling it to do something about the situation. Think of it this way… If the garbage men go on strike and fail to collect the garbage you leave out at the curb for a few days it begins to smell pretty bad. Cells don’t like to live in a garbage dump and neither do we.
Another situation of excess is when the brain produces excess chemicals that stimulate pain receptors in the tissues. One such chemical is called substance P which is suspected of causing the pain felt in fibromyalgia. An excess of blood and fluid in the area of a cell (as in swelling and bruising) will choke off nutrition and lead to pain sensations, as well.
What if the cell walls break?
When cells are damaged or broken, as happens in direct blows and accidents, the contents of the cells spill out into the fluids surrounding the cells. Some of these cellular contents will irritate pain receptors which in turn notify the brain centers. The brain interprets the impulses as pain and reacts to repair the damages and can initiate the Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle.
So, if you happen to experience pain, Pay Attention Inside Now!
If you are experiencing pain, determine what may be causing it (muscular tightness, etc) and take appropriate steps to address the cause. Massage can be a wonderful tool to loosen up tight muscles, melt connective tissue that is pinching off blood flow through the vessels, and increase circulation of nutrients/oxygen to the cells and removal of waste from the cells.
Ice application can block nerve impulse transmissions to the brain. As a result the pain impulses will not be felt and the stimuli from the brain to tense muscles and restrict blood flow will be affected. Heat applications can soothe muscle spasms and reduce the amount of “pain” sensory impulses being transmitted.
For instruction on how to perform effective massage on yourself or a loved one, check out our instructional videos listed on this website.