Massage and Back Pain
Back pain is a common problem—it affects 80% of all individuals at some time in their lives. In fact, it is one of the top reasons people seek medical care. Unfortunately, back pain isn’t always easy to diagnose or treat.
Back pain may occur due to:
- Nerve Compression
- Spinal Subluxation or Deformity
What causes back pain?
Improper lifting, sudden movements or traumatic injury can result in strained muscles or ligaments. Other possible causes can include arthritis, structural abnormalities of the spine or nerve compression due to bulging or ruptured disks between the vertebrae. However, less than 2% of the population has a herniated or slipped disk. Depending on the specific diagnosis, back pain is generally treated with medications, physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy, and in some cases, surgery.
Did you know muscles are the #1 cause?
Low back pain stems from muscle, nerve, or bone problems and the number one reason for low back pain is muscle spasms. Muscle sprains and strains cannot be detected via medical technology. If untreated, back pain can become a chronic or ongoing problem. The 5 lumbar vertebrae in the low back bear the most weight and receive the most stress. With that being said, it’s not surprising that low back pain is one of the top reasons for a doctor’s visit.
Low back pain symptoms include:
- Back sprain or strain
- Muscle spasms, cramping and stiffness. Muscle spasms are the most common cause of low back pain.
- Pain in the back and sacral region that lasts 48 to 72 hours followed by days or weeks of less severe pain.
- Nerve Compression
- Leg pain – if pain extends below the knee, it may indicate nerve compression as well as muscle problems.
- Nerve-related problems involving tingling and numbness in one or both legs.
- Sciatica – shock-like or burning pain down the leg caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Arthritis of the spine
- Pain in the back and hip region lasting longer than 3 to 6 months.
Recent studies show that massage therapy can help to reduce pain and improve flexibility for those with low back pain.
But what if you have pain in the upper or mid-region of the back?
Upper and mid-back pain is not as common as low back pain and neck pain, but it is a more common complaint among people who work at a computer desk all day.
Mid and upper back pain tends to show up as a dull, burning, or sometimes sharp pain. It can be in a single point or all over the back; the pain can vary or be a constant nagging ache and often worsen when you do certain activities.
Common causes of upper and middle back pain include:
- Overuse, muscle strain, or injury to the muscles or soft tissue structures.
- Nerve compression
- A vertebral fracture
- Osteoarthritis due to breakdown of cartilage
- Myofascial pain in the connective tissue of certain muscles in the spine
Sitting for long periods of time with the arms in front of you can cause the chest muscles to start to pull the shoulders forward. When the chest muscles pull the shoulders, they become overly contracted while the back muscles become tight but in an overly stretched position. This causes de-conditioning of the back muscles and they become taut and weak, though no less painful, while the chest muscles become shortened and tighter.
What your massage therapist can do?
Your massage therapist can observe your posture and check for signs of postural distortions due to muscle tension that could be contributing to the back pain you are experiencing.
The massage therapist can work on specific muscle groups to attempt to alleviate tension in those muscles and ultimately alleviate the back pain.
What types of massage are beneficial for back pain?
Researchers are continuing to study the effectiveness and specific types of massage that particularly help with back pain. Here are a few massage techniques that can be used to help decrease back pain:
- Neuromuscular techniques – including trigger point therapy to dissolve local spots of tightness or restriction that have formed in the muscle fibers and soft tissue, along with other areas where pain is referring.
- Myofascial work – myofascial release to break up restrictions in the surrounding connective tissue.
- Active and passive stretching of the overly tight muscle groups.
- Hydrotherapy such as hot stone or contrast therapy will help to loosen overly tight muscle groups so that the therapist can work more deeply.
- Reflexology to address back pain by working the spinal system points.
- Deep tissue massage (if inflammation is not present) can be used if tolerated by the client.
If you experience back pain, regular therapeutic massage has demonstrated lasting benefits including:
- Improved range of motion and flexibility
- Increased blood flow and circulation
- Reduced swelling, pressure and pain
What you can do:
If the back pain is due to muscle spasms, rest is not recommended. Get moving! Do not rest in bed for a week. Studies show those who maintain normal activities had more flexibility than those who rested in bed for a week. This is because joints become stiff when you stay in the same position for too long. It is important to stay active to prevent added tension and stiffness.
In addition to seeing your massage therapist on a regular basis, here are some self-care techniques that you can use to maintain a flexible and pain-free lifestyle:
- Get regular exercise.
- Get deep and restful sleep.
- Use yoga postures to restore joint flexibility.
- Practice deep breathing exercises or meditate.
- Stretch and move the spine frequently especially if you are sitting for prolonged periods of time.
- Make time in your schedule to do things you enjoy, and have a little fun. Life is too short!