The Mechanisms of Massage, Part 1

By | July 20, 2011

Like our patient, Mrs Headley, the healing power of touch can be profound.

I would like to take a short break from our discussions on health insurance to examine the mechanisms behind massage therapy and the healing power of touch in chronic pain. In his article, “Beyond Drugs” in the March 7, 2011 issue of Time Magazine, John Cloud presents an interesting case report that proved to be seminal in the field of Massage Therapy as well as Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

On November 1, 1985 a 56 year old woman referred to as Mrs. Headley was brought into the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxfordshire after having suffered a severe stoke affecting the right side of her brain. This stroke resulted in a paralyzed and insensate left hand and arm.

As part of the rehabilitation phase of her care Mrs. Headley was undergoing testing with a device known as von Frey hairs, which confirmed that she had virtually no sensation in the left hand. During a break in the testing the patient was observed to be rubbing her insensate left hand with her normal right hand. When asked why she was doing that Mrs. Headley stated that although she could feel nothing else in her left hand, she could feel the touch of her right hand and that it felt good. Repeat testing confirmed that Mrs. Headley was right. The mechanism behind her sensations remains unclear, but the fact she could feel her good hand with her bad one and that it relieved pain was firmly established.

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