Implicit in the last blog post is an understanding that physical pain comes attached with certain emotions and thoughts that are unique to the individual, depending upon their past experiences and situations that are still affecting the present. Often, we are oblivious to these subconscious processes that keep us bound in the past with its pain.
The good news is that, with intentional work, we can uncover the thoughts and narratives we have surrounding our pain.
In the last blog post, we talked about the physical input of pain gathered from our tissues and how pain is not processed in the damaged or diseased tissue itself, but in the fascia where the receptors of the nervous system reside.
Input of pain from receptors of damaged tissue is also mixed with other input in our nervous system from our thoughts, emotions, and memories of past experiences. In fact, these are the filters through which we process the physical pain, which accounts for how widely we experience what should be the same amount of pain for the same physical injury
New studies on the nature of chronic pain are teaching us that pain is the product of a complex of physiological, emotional, attitudinal, and social factors. It is important to keep in mind that pain is not just one or the other of these factors, but a complex of all.
In spite of the danger of continuing the traditional separation of these factors, in the interest of your time, this blog post is going to focus on the physiological nature of pain. We’ll cover the other factors in future blog posts.
Pain is not processed in the location where you feel it, but in our nervous system. How many times have you been on the massage table to say, “It hurts here,” only to have the massage therapist find that that’s not really where the problem is? My left front hip pain is often from a problem with my right back hip, but I’d swear to you that the problem is my front left hip because that’s where it hurts—and I know better!
Massage is about lengthening tight fascia and muscles. But how we stand and move also determines how our muscles lengthen or shorten into set patterns over time. This is why massage is only one part of healing and wholeness.
Believe it or not, how we walk is an important piece of the healing puzzle. It’s why I spend time really opening your feet and calves so that you can walk correctly, which is something most of us have never learned. We just stood up and started walking, and everyone cheered. But if you really want the full benefit of a massage, you’ll also want to practice good posture and walking patterns so that your body can release its old painful patterns and create new healthy ones.
No one has a normal body. Normal is a construct based on what's most frequently found among a myriad of variations. Yet too often, medical professionals expect us to conform to what they learn is normal. I don’t want to bad-mouth doctors; they heal us. But their education is based on a heuristic norm, a standard that can be taught. Massage therapists are also licensed by the Ohio Medical Board who learn anatomy like medical doctors. We have the anatomical charts that indicate where all the muscles are. Except--when you get your hands on people, you find that no one is exactly like the person in the anatomy charts.
Teresa Eisenlohr is a Christian theologian, Presbyterian pastor, and licensed massage therapist. And, no, that's not the start of a joke.