Does massage work? Utility Of Massage In Pain Management

Recently I suggested a client to undergo oil massage, he said that one of the famous Allopathic doctor had opined that the massage is of no use. So, here is the details of – “Does massage really work?”

Ayurveda explains massage as one among the daily routines that everyone has to follow. It explains that daily massage has the following benefits – [body massage is called as Abhyanga in Sanskrit]
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Abhyangam aacharet nityam sa jaraa shramavaataha |
Drushti prasaada pushti aayu susvapna twak daardhyakrut || – Ashtanga sangraha sootrasthana.

Abhyanga should be done by everyone, everyday, especially old aged and tired people. It improves eye sight, nourishes muscles, improves age (life expectancy) and skin complexion.

Collection of reflexology foot massage

As it appears from the Ayurvedic verse, Ayurvedic oil massage has good effect over all the body systems, rather than just a local effect on skin. For this very reason, in many diseases, especially having Vata imbalance, such as Arthrits (Sandhivata)  Abhyanga is highly reccommended as per Ayurvedic principle.

How does massage work?
Ayurveda explains that the herbal medicinal contents of the oil enters through the pours of the skin, becomes available to the absorption at the Srotas (end part of blood vessels) and gets absorbed into blood,  reach the target area and exhibit its action. This theory is quite apt because, the cell membrane is made of lipo proteins (combination of lipids and proteins) oils being a form of lipids, it is easy for the massaged oil to pass through the skin to the targeted area.

In cases of Ayurvedic massage oil applied directly over the target areas such as knees, (in case of arthritis)  absorption and therapaeutic action is a lot quicker.  This appears to be the logic behind extensive use of massage as an effective Ayurvedic therapy in a number of diseases.  In fact, even during Ayurvedic panchakarma treatment, massage is used as a part of preparation of the patient.

Allopathic pharmacology books explain that the medicines applied over the skin get absorbed unpredictably, or haphazardly. Some of the doctors deny the massage benefits because they are of the opinion that the massage oil will not reach till the level of blood. There was a recent report about diclofenac (pain-killer) topical gel that application of this gel may cause even liver failure.

When an allopathic medicinal gel, rubbed over skin can get absorbed into blood stream and even cause side effects of liver failure, why not the active ingredients of the herbal oil get absorbed and bring about desired health benefits?

So, does massage really work? Yes! It does.
So, go get an Ayurvedic massage oil, suitable for your body and start massaging today!
How to know which Ayurvedic massage oil suits you? Let your Ayurvedic doctor decide that.

Utility of Ayurvedic massage therapies in managing chronic pain:
When there is a fresh muscle or tendon injury, the process of inflammation sets in. This is treated with anti inflammatory medications and the problems related with injury – such as pain, swelling, etc are taken care of.
But in some patients, the muscle damage heals well in the initial stages but pain recurs after several years.

This recurring pain is due to following causes:
1. Muscles and tendons becoming weak due to ageing and tissue degenration
2. Wrong body postures while sitting, sleeping etc, causing the twitching of muscles and tendons. This worsens the wear and tear of old injured muscles.
3. Tiny scar tissue formation in the muscles which make them stiff over a long period of time.
4. Provocative factors such as depression, junk foods, smoking, excess alcohol, aerated drinks, stress, anxiety and diabetes causing build up of free radicals. This leads to inflammation build up in the body, leading to resurfacing of pain.
5. An accident or repeat injury causing flaring up of old pains.

The above factors, individually or collectively can cause recurring muscle and joint pains.

Basis behind Ayurvedic massage oil composition:
If you observe composition of Ayurvedic massage oils, They will obviously have regular anti inflammatory herbs like

  • Dashamoola (Group of 10 roots),
  • Rasna – Pluchea lanceolata (Pluchea lanceolata),
  • Devadaru – Cedrus deodara
  • Prasarini – Paederia foetida
  • Ela – Cardamom – Elettaria cardamomum
  • Kushta – Saussurea lappa

But apart from the above, they also will have other herbs that are useful in

  • rejuvenating,
  • anti ageing,
  • scar tissue relieving,
  • stress relieving and
  • anti oxidant activities.

These extra herbs are useful to

  • heal minute scars of muscle tissue,
  • regeneration of tendons,
  • ligaments of joints,
  • muscle tissue scars,
  • accelerate the process of healing and inflammation.

A few examples of such herbs in Ayurvedic oils are –

Mahanarayana oil – a very famous herbal oil used in Ayurvedic treatment of arthritis, paralysis, muscular and joint pain etc. Contains herbs like rejuvenating and anti oxidant herbs like
Ashwagandha – Indian ginseng – Withania somnifera
Shatavari – Asparagus racemosus
Swadamshtra – Tribulus terrestris
Haridra – Turmeric Rhizome – Curcuma Longa

Kottamchukkadi oilan Ayurvedic oil used in the treatment of  Vata disorders causing neuro muscular pains, sciatica, spondylosis etc.
Contains rejuvenating and anti oxidant herbs like
Shigru – Moringa oliefera
Shunti – Ginger

Mahamasha tailapowerful Ayurveda oil, widely used for many neurological conditions such as neuralgia, paralysis, etc
Contains rejuvenating and anti oxidant herbs like
Ashwagandha – Indian ginseng – Withania somnifera
Masha – Black gram
Gokshura – Tribulus terrestris

Balaswagandhadi Tailamn Ayurvedic oil, used in Ayurvedic treatment of fever, weakness of muscles, bones and joints etc.
Contains rejuvenating herbs like
Ashwagandha – Indian ginseng – Withania somnifera
Bala – Country mallow (root) – Sida cordifolia  etc

This proves that Ayurvedic oils are not only targeted to relieve pain and inflammation but also to rejuvenate muscles and tendon tissues and restore muscle and joint health.

Importance of Swedana – sweating treatment:
Usually massage treatments are followed up with sweating treatment in the form of steam therapy, poultice. As per Ayurvedic principles, it helps in better absorption of massaged oil and ensures quick healing.

Other massage therapies
Other than just oil massage, Ayurveda offers variant therapies for better results.
Kati Basti
and Greeva Basti therapies – Here hot Ayurvedic oils are pooled over lower back and neck respectively to treat respective problems.
Elakizhi therapy
Here we use the herbal drugs or leaves of medicinal plants obtained from nature for external treatments, to heal pains and related conditions and strengthen & rejuvenate joints, muscles and soft tissues.

Podikizhi therapy – In this, we use the herbal powders heated and or fried in herbal oils tied in a bolus to rub against the painful parts for a fixed duration of time so as to heal pains and related conditions, strengthen & rejuvenate joints, muscles and soft tissues.

Utility of Panchakarma
In some chronic disorders, the above said external therapies are not sufficient to bring down the pain and inflammation. In such cases, Ayurvedic Panchakarma therapies ensure removal of toxins of the body, improves blood circulation and nutrition supply to the affected regions and heals the minute tissue injuries.

Rasayana – rejuvenating, anti aging therapies:
After Panchakarma therapies, Rasayana – rejuvenating, anti aging treatment is administered. This is to ensure total rejuvenation and reversing the degeneration of tissues. Here, Ayurvedic anti ageing remedies such as
Chyawanprash, Brahma Rasayana, Shilajit etc are administered for a period of few weeks.

In this way, Ayurveda offers a comprehensive chronic pain management solution.

Accessory therapies to aid better management of chronic pain:
Yoga – improves correct posture. Helps to relieve wrong overlapping and mutual irritation between muscle tissues and tendons
Pranayam – ensures optimum distribution of energy and oxygen to all tissues.
Regular exercise in any form such as walking etc – Helps to beat stress, improves blood circulation.
Sleep for at least 6  -7  hours at night – ensures that all the muscles are properly rested.

Crepe bandages to painful muscles – Prevents unwanted motion of muscles. Rests the muscles better and improves pace of healing.

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  1. I have a question. I live in USA. Massage is used as a way of relaxation, healing with touch..etc. Reflexology is healing with touch. So the effect of massage is in the oil we apply or the massage itself-means the touch, pressure, …etc?

    • Thanks for the question. There are two components in Abhyanga – massage.
      1. The effect of medicated (herbal processed oil) in bringing about its therapeutic effect, such as relieving pain, relaxing the muscle, inducing sleep, relieving anxiety, relaxing the mind and so on. These actions are brought about by the oil and its active herbal medicinal components.

      2. The effect of touch / reflexology – The effect of touch healing therapy definitely helps in improving the benefits of the medicated oil used in massage. the touch, as everyone knows brings with itself a power of healing. and reflexology / mild pressure exerted over the particular parts of the body and muscles helps to improve muscle toning, circulation etc. Hence the effect of touch and the reflexology contributes the the effect of oil.
      I would say that the massage oil is the main contributor to the healing because in several other therapies, oil is simply poured over the target organs, as in case of shirodhara, which is also beneficial. The touch / reflexology is a method or catalytic process to deliver the desired efficacy of the oil, in a more sophisticated way.

      Ayurveda also explains massage by powders also, which have quite a different effect than massage with oils. so the Ayurvedic medicine used for the purpose of massaging is always given importance.

      In my next posts, I will deal with these topics with further Ayurvedic references and scientific substantiation.

  2. Good message doctor. Is definitely informative and enlightening.

  3. Sir, how many hours does it take for the oil to be completely accepted by the skin? I’m sure it is more than 45 mins as many claim.

    Is it advisable for a healthy person to do full body oil massage before going to sleep or is it not advisable?
    By this i mean overnight oil massage and just plain water bath in the morning.

  4. Gaurav says:

    Is the “Marma” system part of (Charak Samhita’s) Ayurveda? Are there supposed to be well defined ‘marma points’ on the body i.e. skin which are somehow connected more directly to various internal organs, such that applying anything to those points might have even quicker/stronger effects on those organs, both good or bad…?

  5. Vishwas says:

    Usually oil massage is not indicated when there is indigestion….this sentences mentioned in your one article…

    .. do u recommend or not …..oil massage to person having indigestion issue… also having knee pain and Vatta increased…

    • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu) says:

      Hi Vishwas, during indigestion, it is best to avoid full body oil massage. If one needs to undergo full body massage even during indigestion, better to chew a few cumin seeds the before night.
      In case of a person with indigestion, having knee pain, he can have massage to the knee joint or whatever the joints that are affected by Vata. There is no problem in undergoing local massage during indigestion. Hope I am clear.

  6. RAJESH RAJAN says:

    Hi doctor ..,
    I am Rajesh rajan ,my question; is that any important to take steam after the Abhyanga and how its work on body ?

    If any problem to give steam after the sirodhara and how its work?

    i hope you will replay
    Thank you

  7. Thank u very much for the information Dr.

  8. Sunmathi SS says:

    SIr i ‘ve undergo c-sec for my delivery. almost 1 year over still i’m having a terrible back pain if i do any mild work too. Till now i am in complete rest not doing any work. sitting long time to make back pain. Is there any oil to massage for relieve my problem?

    • Dr Malini Bhat says:

      Madam, Kindly consult a ayurvedic physician for the treatment. He/she might see your condition and advise Panchakarma procedure.

  9. Dr. veena says:

    Dear sir
    Indeed this is really good explanation.
    Congrates for th 1000article.
    Keep writing.
    Dr. Veena

  10. Shashikala Sarvesh says:

    I stay in Bank Colony near Hanumanthanagar in Bangalore. I would like to have panchakarma treatment for my Arthirtis Knee joint pain, I am working lady. One and half year ago I was diagnosed Breast Cancer , I am under treatment, it is getting completing by March end this year. Kindly suggest

  11. Dr Megharaj Paradkar, BAMS, MA (Sanskrit) says:

    Your work is really appreciable doctor ! Thank you very much for continuous writing on Ayurveda. I have a question that I asked many practitioners, but could not get satisfactory answer. Hope you will answer the same. The question is – Is there any reference in Ancient Ayurvedic Sanskrit texts mentioning the direction of abhyanga and reasons for the same ? I searched Charak, Sushrut, Vagbhat but could not find the reference. Can you please provide the same ?

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