When I place my hands on my client's skin, sensory nerve endings are stimulated. Impulses travel through the nerves, up the spinal cord, and to the brain. This is where the impulses are distributed and the brain processes them.
Next, the brain generates impulses and information is sent down the spinal cord and out into the body, creating changes. Blood vessels dilate and the heart and breathing rates change, hormones are stimulated.
So, Regarding pain, if the brain likes the input, (cue a stroking soothing massage movement) , it may turn down the volume of intensity of pain and tension...relieving pain.
But, if the brain perceives threat from our input, (an elbow jabbing into a tender area) This may create a stress response, a sensation of pain and/or causing physiological responses that usually are the opposite effect of what we want.
A qualified bodywork therapist learns all this in training, but somehow it tends to get lost and the focus goes directly into training us to work solely on the muscular system. Twenty odd years ago in my original training, I was confused by the contradiction of my anatomy & physiology training against the massage training. Although, thankfully, I was very aware that I needed to avoid any invasive or painful techniques.
The old belief was, and often still is, that pressure applied to muscles, and other tissues will somehow release and stretch them and any 'knots' or adhesions can be broken down with pressure. Creating a reliance on this kind of mechanical force means unnecessary stress on my client (and my own body) as well as ignoring the fact that the client's nervous system controls the whole body.
Many of these massage techniques are based on assumptions that we can somehow target specific tissues, but we can't treat effectively by ignoring the Nervous system - it will always respond in one of two ways. Feeling calm/soothed and safe or over sensitised and unsafe going into protect mode.
My treatment programme for pain relief is a course of massage sessions focusing on soothing the nervous system and enabling you to let go of pain. Learning how to communicate effectively with my clients, via their mind and body in a way that enables their nervous system to feel safe, allowing it to turn down the intensity of tension and pain by stimulating the nerve receptors in the skin and tissues.
So in your massage treatment I will soothe your nervous system into relaxing. I use a range of methods and can offer a wide variety of depths and speed, always avoiding applying pain, discomfort and force by poking, prodding and pinching your tissues. Because, as a client you don't consciously get to choose how your nervous system responds. No matter how strong and determined you are, treatments need to be within your window of tolerance.
It also means we need to discover what works for you, because everyone is different. I don't do a systematic or routine massage, I work individually with you at each session. And this awareness also enables you to find potent, successful ways to support pain relief in your daily life.