Nerve impingement can be the most debilitating and illusive kind of pain. Having experienced various types of nerve pain in my own body, I have a deep level of compassion and commitment to helping others get relief as fast as possible while helping them understand the natural healing process that is unique to this type of more debilitating kind of pain. With regard to nerve pain, here are some questions and answers I find myself frequently repeating in my effort to be a supportive and resourced guide for clients.
Is this nerve pain or muscle pain?
All muscle pain involves a nerve, since nerves cause muscles to fire. Radiating or sharper pain, numbness, tingling or increasing weakness tends to indicate that a nerve is impinged or not getting blood flow. When this is the case, the pain process is non-linear meaning it can be a bit of a roller coaster. The question then with this type of pain is
What are the root causes?
Well let’s discuss some. How does a nerve loose it’s blood supply, get compressed/impinged or become hyper-responsive so as to cause a person this relentless pain? Nerves in the body weave in and out of this dense network of soft tissue made up of fascia (connective tissue), tendons, ligaments and periosteum – all the stuff that surrounds your skeleton – your bones and joints. When soft tissue becomes unhealthy or unbalanced, joints become loaded and sometimes, over time they begin to “adapt” to this process by creating inflammation and/or building more bone (for example arthritis or chondromalacia in the knee). This pressure on the joints can come from either an injury/trauma, overuse or dis-use, or postural / occupational habits that cause certain muscles to become weak and others to overwork. When muscle groups get unhealthy they “forget” how to function and turn off. When enough of these muscle fibers, or sometimes an entire muscle turns off, then the nerves and joints in that area start to inhibit blood flow. When this happens, they eventually don’t work and joint’s have friction, nerves get pinched and pain is a way for the body to let you know something needs attention.
How can a massage practitioner help with nerve pain?
It depends on the massage, and the massage practitioner. While all massage will help support the nervous system in some way, structural or orthopedic massage can create a more lasting affect by restoring balance in joint structures (where the muscles attached to the bones). A deeper understanding of joint structures and function can make a world of difference in how an approach to this type of pain. I tell my clients getting the soft tissue healthy is a first step in the process. The nerves and muscles still need to remember how to work. They need to turn back on! This is where the experience of a bodyworker / orthopedic massage practitioner can make all the difference. An intuitive ability to isolate pain patterns and muscle function and an ability to retrain the muscle groups and determine when the function is restored is crucial to the healing process.
But I have arthritis. They say it’s “bone on bone”, how can massage help with that?
While massage can’t do anything to change an arthritic state in a bone, advanced deep tissue work that includes joint structures CAN often create healthy support around a joint and restore the function of that joint to restore pain-free movement. Joints have an amazing ability to restore themselves when supportive joint structures and soft tissue supporting the joint are all in good working order and balanced. They adapt to provide the support and integrity that the bone lacks. Studies have proven this theory and I have witnessed this with countless clients and many times over in my own 55 + year old body. Most clients ask this question again and again, and are amazed to see and feel dramatic change in their body in a first few sessions.
Once I restore the health of the muscles and soft tissue surrounding the compromised nerve, we look to see where the cause is elsewhere. Is it a symptom in itself or secondary to another issue? This is a key question that often gets overlooked. For example, If there is a complaint of tendon pain in the elbow are there contributing factors in the neck? Likely. If there is non-traumatic pain in the knee what is happening above and below the knee? If there is pain in the foot, is a pelvic tilt causing undue load on the muscles in the calf and in turn the foot/plantar fascia?
It is my experience that nerve pain needs to be addressed holistically both from a physical and non-physical perspective also. The body needs to feel safe (do no harm), and the mind needs to understand what’s happening and feel a physical sense of progress to get on board. Many of the people that explore massage or bodywork present with what I would call non-traumatic nerve pain, in that there hasn’t been a severed limb or nerve or an external trauma to the body. This is the more complicated type of pain to treat, because there are postural and sometimes non-physical / stress factors.
If you are struggling with nerve pain, the right type of massage can make a world of difference in building a bridge to resuming your active lifestyle. Plus it may just feel amazing as well…