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Monday Medical: Relieving pain with massage

Monday Medical

Getting a massage isn't just a good way to relax: Massage is a powerful treatment with a range of health benefits, including relief from pain.

"Massage can be a really great starting point for a lot of different types of pain," said Sarah Braat, a registered massage therapist who is board certified in therapeutic massage and bodywork and works with Yampa Valley Medical Center's Integrated Health. "Sometimes, further treatment, such as surgery or medication, is needed, but for some cases, massage can alleviate and even end your pain."

Many hospitals and medical clinics offer massage therapy to help patients in pain. In fact, the American College of Physicians recently recommended that patients suffering from lower back pain should try massage, as well as acupuncture, heat and spinal manipulation, before medications.

Braat works with patients who are suffering from a range of pain, including back, neck, shoulder and joint pain, as well as patients who have recently had surgery or are dealing with certain autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis.

"Massage helps get the circulation going, which increases blood flow to the area, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients and removing stagnant conditions or congestion from the area," Braat said.

Specific types of massage can help address trigger points or release adhesions between soft tissues, allowing the body to move properly and heal. Plus, massage gives patients a chance to fully relax and gain awareness of their bodies.

"There's that relaxation piece that comes from being nurtured and taking some time for ourselves that I think can be very healing," Braat said. "A lot of us are very heady — we're thinking all the time. To be able to come back down into our body and take a deep breath and feel what's happening in our wrist or thigh or knee can be helpful."

Treatment plans involving massage vary depending on each patient's situation and goals, but Braat usually recommends starting with weekly or even twice-per-week visits for the first month or two.

"Each time I work with someone, I can get another layer of soft tissue to relax and start to heal," Braat said. "If a month goes by, it can be like starting over. But if I see someone regularly at first, we can really get to the root of the problem and address it."

After those initial visits, appointments can be stretched to once every four to six weeks.

Over the course of treatment, different types of massage may be used. With a new injury, Braat might focus on reducing inflammation and supporting lymphatic drainage. As the injury starts to heal, she moves on to releasing connective tissue, working on scar tissue and addressing muscles that have been compensating for the injured muscle.

For some more serious issues, such as arthritis, spinal degeneration or nervous system issues, massage can provide temporary help, but additional treatment may be necessary. However, trying massage is a good place to start — especially for more minor injuries.

"If someone has a pulled muscle, it's important to get some body work and address it, instead of just taking pain medications that might mask the pain," Braat said.

And though massage might involve a bit of pain of its own, Braat said it should be a "good hurt."

"Sometimes it's painful, but there are lots of techniques that are just as effective and not so painful," Braat said. "If it hurts, it should feel good at the same time. If just hurts, I want to know, so I can try something else."

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.