As we drove past a healthcare clinic Anastasia pointed to a sign by the door and read aloud, “Pain Management.”
Pain management!? What are they advertising? I would like to think that the goal would be pain elimination. Rid the patient of the degree of discomfort that it would take to get into the “pain” category; not just manage it.
What is pain? Pain is the body’s way of drawing attention to an area that needs time and stillness to heal. When there is an injury, additional lymphatic fluid is drawn to the area. This is called swelling, or edema. This extra fluid increases heat and pressure on the blood vessels, squeezing them against nerves, thus irritating them. Any movement increases pressure, pushes fluids, triggering the nerves, and causes pain. It’s the body’s way of keeping the area at rest until so it can heal.
People and dogs have a wide range of how much pain they can tolerate. That’s because “pain” is subjective. We can never know for sure what anyone feels. That’s why we ask massage clients to rate their pain in their own words, on their own scale from I to 10. It is a very personal experience. And it’s unique to each of us. Some people can handle a lot of what we would consider to be an unbearable condition, like a broken bone or dislocated joint, and insist that they feel very little discomfort. Others are much more reactive.
Dogs are very much like people in these regards. Some dogs are notably pain tolerant. Others are extremely fragile and vulnerable. Unfortunately they are not able to tell us, by rating their pain on a 1-10 scale. We have to interpret what we believe to be their level of discomfort by assessing their posture, movements, respiration, and facial expressions.
Dogs have definite personalities and ways of dealing with emotional stressors. One dog that’s adopted from a shelter may quickly dive headlong into a joyful new life and family. He adjusts to his new lifestyle on the ride home. Another may hold onto the “rescue dog” persona and base the balance of his life around that drama.
The goal of Canine Massage is to assist dogs to rediscover a quality of life that does not include pain. Where there is coordination and balance, there is no pain. So pain doesn’t have to be managed.
Where there is flexibility, effortless joy in movement, there is no pain. Where there is efficient and optimized circulation, there is no pain. Where there are strong bones, ligaments, tendons, and neural and muscular connections, there is no pain.
Where there is proprioception and confidence in movement, there is no pain. Where disease and wounds have healed and the body is restored, there is no pain. Where there is resolution, there is no pain.
There is only gain.
Canine massage helps dogs in their self healing. But what about chronic pain?
Chronic pain is pain that lasts a long time. It is “pain that extends beyond the expected period of healing”. It is not a life sentence. Chronic pain can be alleviated when the body’s own natural healing abilities are harnessed.
Dogs can be in long lasting states of discomfort. This describes the state of many dogs when they are finally brought in to begin a massage program. Still, the goal is not to manage pain. The goal of canine massage is to attain the most comfortable quality of life possible. Although we may not always be able to get to the level of perfect harmony, the end goal is always the intention. Our eyes stay on the prize.
Canine massage is not a magically spontaneous panacea that miraculously heals. It’s a process. A therapeutic modality. The more we learn about the innate intelligence of the body and the prescient connections we all share, the more we recognize there is real science behind the “art.”
While on the road to as complete a recovery as possible, dogs are still going to feel their bodies. They are going to hurt. As their massages continue-and effects accrue-they will hurt less. If they are taking prescribed pain-meds, massage helps the medication process along. Massage relaxes the tissues and improves circulation so meds can get to where they need to go and do what they are meant to do. The drugs are more effective; so less are needed, and for shorter durations.
What are the benefits of canine massage that alleviate pain? Here are 10 of them:
- Increases circulation
- Lymphatic drainage
- Enhances flexibility
- Flushes the blood of toxins
- Releases tightness and restrictions
- Enhances production of mood elevating hormones
- Maintains ongoing assessment of body mind and spirit
- Supports natural self-care
- Balances TCM chi
- It’s an enjoyable activity.
Dogs are tactile and social. They thrive on touch and companionship. They always signal that they are grateful for their massage and the relief they know they’ll feel. Even when a dog is in the deepest depths of hurt they manage to flash a sparkle in their eyes, and thump a couple of appreciative albeit weak, wags of their tail.
Canine massage encourages dogs’ naturally intuitive drive to thrive, to grow, to refine, to return to balance, and to heal.
And when that state is achieved there is no pain to “manage.”