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Self Massage for Pain Management: The Affective Touch Hypothesis

Pleasant sensations are thought to share overlapping neural circuitry with pain. The idea is that through distraction with gentle stroking (of hairy skin) at slow velocities the sensory pathway that conveys pain messages is overtaken by pleasant messages. The habitual loop of associating touch with pain is changed. The mental habit of catastrophising is challenged. The negative bias towards incoming sensation can be broken. This is called the Affective Touch Hypothesis where optimal touch induces positive affect.

"Affect" encompasses all the emotions, opinions and ideas that you hold about your pain. Affective touch is thought to decrease anxiety and activate the brain regions involved in descending pain modulation. These are the brain regions that produce our body's natural analgesics - our endorphins, dopamine and when someone else massage us: oxytocin.

I get a monthly massage from Roger but I also use self massage weekly, and if I have any niggles - daily. Below is a quick end-of-class massage that I do. It takes less than ten minutes and leaves us feeling pretty good. I encourage you to massage or gently stroke your painful areas often. It can be done anywhere, it's free and it feels good - so it's worth a try don't you think?



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