How Massage Therapy Can Help Reduce The Need For Opioids In The Midst Of An Epidemic

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How Massage Therapy Can Help Reduce The Need For Opioids In The Midst Of An Epidemic

The opioid epidemic has affected so many lives including those who are dependent upon them and those who love people who are dependent upon them and have overdosed. Not least of all, chronic pain patients have greatly impacted.

Ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for opioid prescribing last year, many people suffering from chronic pain have been denied medication and have been forced to find other means of relief. Unfortunately, some poor souls have resorted to street drugs, an even more dangerous and potentially deadly situation.

But are opioids really the answer for chronic conditions? Sometimes yes, but more often, no. For decades, the manufacturers of prescription painkillers have misled health professionals and the public about the addictive nature of painkillers. And the truth is, they were never indicated for chronic pain in the first place.

massage therapy | Just Believe RecoveryWhy? Because they can cause dependency, have resulted in thousands of accidental overdoses, and contribute to a painful condition called hyperalgesia.

Hyperalgesia is most simply described as a heightened sensitivity to pain. Moreover, patients end up experiencing more pain than before they started taking painkillers, an irony that is not only sad but completely unacceptable.

Fortunately, researchers are hard at work trying to develop an effective painkiller that is not addictive and without the potential for life-threatening complications. But until such a wonder drug is available, people suffering from chronic conditions must seek alternative treatments to manage pain.

Massage therapy is one of those treatments that it very often effective in reducing pain and improving overall well-being. It has been shown to have several benefits on the mind and body of chronic pain patients. For one, it increases the neurotransmitter serotonin, which serves to both relieve pain and improve mood, reducing both anxiety and depression.

Massage therapy also helps to increase deep sleep. Deep, restorative sleep is often a factor that exacerbates chronic pain conditions. Massage also can increase the range of motion in areas most affected by pain.

Chronic Pain Conditions

massage therapy | Just Believe RecoveryArthritis, fibromyalgia, and back pain are chronic conditions that can be improved through massage therapy. In one study, a group of patients with knee osteoarthritis receiving massage for pain reported a significant decrease in pain and stiffness and exhibited improved function. They could walk short distances faster, and their range of motion also increased.

In yet another study conducted by the Touch Research Institute (TRI), subjects with wrist and hand arthritis also reported reduced pain, depression, and anxiety, and exhibited increased strength in grip after receiving massage therapy.


Massage therapy for fibromyalgia focuses on increasing muscle circulation and the flow of nutrients. It also said to reduce heart rate and relax the muscles, in addition to increasing serotonin production and improving range of motion.

In a study focused on fibromyalgia patients, TRI also found that massage therapy provided decreased levels of stress hormones, pain messengers, and tender point pain. Researchers stated that massive is a clinically significant treatment for fibromyalgia, and is viable for use as part of a comprehensive pain management plan.

Also, a meta-analysis conducted in 2014 revealed the following:

“Massage therapy with duration ≥5 weeks had beneficial immediate effects on improving pain, anxiety, and depression in patients with FM. Massage therapy should be one of the viable complementary and alternative treatments for FM.”

Back Pain

According to Spine-health, there are several back pain conditions that can benefit from massage therapy, including spinal arthritis, which is the breakdown between aligning joints in the back area of the spine. Joints then become inflamed, and degeneration causes more pain as bone rubs against bone.

Massage can help reduce both upper and lower back pain by increasing circulation, reducing stress, and relieving muscle tension.

Building a Comprehensive Plan For Chronic Pain Management

massage therapy | Just Believe RecoveryPeople suffering from chronic pain often benefit from seeing a pain specialist, who can recommend multiple approaches to treating pain that do not necessarily rely on medication alone. It goes without saying that a comprehensive treatment plan is more likely to result in a better outcome from a pain perspective than one or two treatments alone.

For example, many patients find that chiropractic services, physical therapy, or engaging in yoga or certain exercises can help with chronic pain. There are also studies that lend evidence to the effectiveness of TENS devices, homeopathic therapies, and acupuncture. In addition to massive therapy, many gyms offer free use of massage chairs and beds.

By consulting with specialists both in the area of pain and massage, patients can make use of recommendations specific to their condition and have a better chance of achieving pain relief with little or no use of addictive painkillers.

You can search a qualified massage therapist in your area at the American Massage Therapy Association.

Also, you can search for a pain specialist in your area at

Author’s note: I myself suffer from chronic lower back pain due to a spinal disk injury several years ago. I do not use opioids. I rely on chiropractic services, massage, exercise, and occasionally, ibuprofen for inflammation.

I mention this because, in the past, I have been accused of vilifying chronic pain patients by implying that one should not rely on addictive painkillers. I am an expert on addiction and mental illness to a lesser extent, but I also understand chronic pain and the need for pain management I contend that what we, as patients need is better treatments, not more addictive and dangerous medications.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology


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