Imagine never sleeping well, every night trying to find a restful position that would not shoot pain through your body, or trying to manage the emotional impact of never getting more than half an hour of sleep at a time. For chronic pain sufferers, shiatsu massage may be a long sought-after treatment that restores peaceful, restorative sleep and ends every night’s torture. Many people with pervasive, debilitating pain attempt to get a good night sleep with opiates or pain patches, often to no avail. Shiatsu massage is a traditional Japanese practice, currently being scrutinized by researchers at the University of Alberta, that may help upon more study.
The small pilot study investigated the effects of self-administered shiatsu pressure techniques on nine chronic pain sufferers, performed shortly before heading to bed.
“We know that sleep involves both physiology and learning. You don’t just flip a switch and go to sleep,” says Cary Brown, an associate professor of occupational therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. “What we saw with this pilot is that it appears self-shiatsu may help your body to prepare for sleep and help you stay asleep for longer periods.”
Occupational therapy and physical therapy students, previously taught shiatsu techniques, trained the nine study participants. The participants claimed to fall asleep faster or while administering treatment. The effects seem to last for as long as two months after treatment.
One participant, Cheyne, continued the treatment well after the pilot study ended, claiming: “Usually within a few minutes of doing the pressure treatments, I’m gone – asleep,” she says. “Sometimes I can’t even finish, I just go out.” She reports being able to sleep for up to two hours at a time, a considerable improvement above the 15-30 minutes she used to be able to rest, due to chronic back pain. Hopefully, further research will provide more help and information, regarding shiatsu massage’s part in treatments for chronic pain sufferers.