Persistent Pain

What is Persistent Pain?

Perhaps when you think about having a massage you think “relaxation and rejuvenation” and less often may you correlate massage therapy with the treatment of persistent pain. While a treatment with a Registered Massage Therapist can of course be relaxing and rejuvenating, it can also be a great way to manage many chronic conditions.

Normally, pain is our built-in alarm system. It makes us aware that there may be a danger or risk to our body. 

Pain is essential for our survival and it usually makes us do something to protect ourselves. For example, if you put your hand too close to a hot stove, you feel the sensation of heat. If you touch the hot surface, your body feels pain and instinctively pulls away. The pain, and your reaction, prevent you from harm.

Throughout the body are danger detectors – called nociceptors. Pain is usually triggered when the brain receives signals from nociceptors when they detect something potentially harmful, signaling that there may be danger. The brain then evaluates this message and decides whether the body needs protecting, thus interpreting the signal as pain. This is a normal cascade within the nervous system.

Persistent pain is very complex and may be caused by a number of factors. It is associated with changes to the nervous system (the nerves, spinal cord and brain). It may occur alongside conditions such as arthritis, diabetes or fibromyalgia. It may occur after an injury or trauma to the body has healed. And in some cases the cause is not known. The pain may be a sharp, dull, burning or aching sensation, all of which are troublesome and may detrimentally affect day to day activities.

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Current Pain Science

Evidence based understanding of persistent pain demonstrates that the perception and experience of pain is a dynamic interaction among the biological, psychological, and social factors unique to each individual. Pain is not simply a phenomenon of perception, in that the initial injury that has caused the tissue damage also disrupts the body’s homeostatic systems which, in turn, produce stress and the initiation of complex responses to restore homeostasis.

When dealing with chronic pain, individuals experiencing elevated levels of stress may actually exacerbate the pain experience. As stress intensifies pain, the increased level of pain, in turn, inevitably becomes a stressor that continues to threaten homeostasis.

Based on the Neuromatrix Model of Pain by Melzack, each individual’s distinct neuromatrix—comprising genetics, sensory modalities and memory—determines the overall interpretation of the experience of pain.

Persistent Pain and the Nervous System

When persistent pain causes stress to rise, the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) can be expected, increasing the nervous system’s “fight or flight” response. As part of this response the nervous system signals the muscular system to adopt a heightened state of ready, ready to fight or flee. When this heightened state persists it can contribute to compounding muscle tension, decreased mobility, muscular fatigue and an increased experience of pain over time.

Regular massage therapy visits can be extremely helpful in minimizing the compounding effects of stress on the muscular and the nervous systems, thus being beneficial in the management of pain.

Persistent pain is also known to cause changes in mood and mental health. Patients who manage persistent pain may also experience anxiety, depression and compromised quality of sleep.

One study found that during massage, levels of cortisol were reduced by upto 31%, levels of serotonin were increased by 28% and dopamine were increased by 31%. Serotonin and Dopamine are neurotransmitters that help to maintain our mood, they promote happiness and feelings of wellbeing, play a vital role in how we feel pleasure and experience joy, help us to feel motivated and stay focused. This is supportive evidence that massage is effective in calming the nervous system and having a positive effect on persistent pain.

Massage Therapy for Arthritis

Massage Therapy for arthritis is often very beneficial in improving mobility, managing swelling, decreasing pain and  improving a patient’s ability to enjoy daily activities and hobbies more easily.

Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia

Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia can be an important management tool for patients. Those who have received massage often experience a reduction in the frequency of flare ups, improved pain levels, improved mood, and better sleep. Often patients will find benefits following a single massage and the benefits can be prolonged with regular treatment. 


An RMT will work with you to take into account the complexities of your individual experience and conditions when developing a tailored treatment plan. Ensure you ask any questions you have and raise any concerns. It’s important you feel as relaxed as possible during the massage so addressing worries beforehand can be beneficial.


Massage Therapy can be an important part of the management of persistent pain. Using a variety of treatment techniques and offering guidance in self care approaches to provide positive results for patients who manage pain on a daily basis. 

Is chronic pain a part of your daily life? It doesn’t have to be. Contact us today to book an appointment.


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