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  • Sharon Cole

Can massage help your back pain?



For most of us, the answer is probably ‘yes’. In addition to the physical benefits of massage, it has also been shown to produce the ‘feel-good’ hormones and relax the muscles. This is a great benefit for those with acute and chronic back pain, so unless you have medical conditions such as open wounds, recent surgery, bruises or a fever, then a massage is perfectly safe.

Massage therapy has become increasingly popular, especially as back pain affects all of us at some point or another, but is this a short term ‘Feel-good’ fix, or can it actually help your relieve back pain?

Firstly, it’s interesting to know that back pain in most people starts with a muscular imbalance and trigger points. Since massage works directly on muscles and connective tissue, the answer is therefore ‘yes’. However, this can depend on the level and experience of the massage therapist.

Most massage therapists use a variety of techniques during a session, but commonly there is Swedish massage (combines light and deep pressure to relax muscles), Deep tissue massage (as described a deeper massage with slower strokes to release tension), trigger point therapy (direct pressure is applied to trigger points to release the muscle) or Shiatsu (an oriental therapy based on acupressure). It’s good to find a therapist that will understand your back pain, and tailor the massage appropriately for you.

The benefits of massage therapy for back pain

Massage is a popular therapy that helps millions of people with a wide variety of issues. Some people try a massage for pain relief and others see it as way of pampering themselves. Either way, research has shown that massage can have many benefits, especially for those who suffer with back pain.

  • Decrease muscle tension, reducing the pain caused by tight muscles.

  • Relaxed muscles can also increase flexibility since limber joints provide a wider range of movement with less pain.

  • Massage can even improve sleep, good news for those who suffer sleep loss due to pain.

  • Increase endorphins (or ‘Feel-good’ chemicals) are released into the brain. These are great for improving your mood and fighting depression and anxiety.

  • Massage increases the circulation, bringing much needed nutrients to tired and sore muscles.

  • Massage aids the removal of toxins, acids and other waste products that accumulate in the muscles and cause soreness.

  • Studies also show massage can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and even help migraines.

Types of back pain massage can help with

Back pain can be anything from occasional ache to a debilitating and constant discomfort that affects your posture, sitting, standing and sleeping – both home and work life are affected. There are numerous back related problems that may benefit from massage therapy:

  • Upper back pain – Upper back pain is often caused by injury such as a car accident and sports injury, or repetitive motions which lead to overuse injuries. Massage can help to remove the spasms and irritations in the muscle to bring relief and improve your range of motion.

  • Lower back pain – this is often caused by muscle strain from lifting heavy objects, moving awkwardly, or a fall. When these muscles are strained, they often become inflamed, pressing on nerves and causing symptoms such as sciatica. Back spasms from these muscles often cause severe back pain and limited range of motion. Acute back pain may resolve itself with little or no intervention, but pain lasting longer than six weeks is likely to require attention and massage can help to relieve the spasms and irritation as described above.

  • Osteoarthritis – spinal arthritis can cause the breakdown of cartilage between the joints in the spine, which become inflamed and eventually bone rubs on bone, causing the pain in the spine. Improving circulation and reducing muscle inflammation via massage can help to reduce this pain.

  • Fibromyalgia – Although people have different experiences with Fibromyalgia, common symptoms include tired/fatigued muscles, pain, stiffness, and sleep issues. They often have tender points in the affected areas, and massage can help to target both the specific tender points and the broader muscle stiffness.

Is there a downside?

Massage is a safe form of treatment and usually leaves you feeling great afterwards, so can there be a downside?

For most people, finding a good therapist who understands your needs and can offer the best type of massage can be a struggle. In the UK, massage therapists are not regulated like they are in the US, so people with very little training can offer massage next to those who have proper qualifications and years of experience. Always talk to your therapist first, and find one who you can trust.

Finding alternatives to massage

If massage does not sound appealing to you for various reasons, Reflexology is normally a good alternative if you prefer a different form of massage where only your feet are exposed.

Cost can also be an issue for some. Fortunately, there are alternatives to hands on massage if you can’t afford a good therapist, or want to do some extra work at home in between treatments. Getting a hands-on massage might just not fit into your schedule, or you may have to travel too far to find a decent therapist.

For at home relief, there are self-massage tools available in the internet, just search for trigger point therapy tools. Hand held massagers and massage pillows are designed to mimic some of the techniques used by massage therapists. For those with deeper pockets, a massage chair is designed to mimic the shiatsu and Swedish massage techniques and may helpful for overall relaxation of the back and neck.

Final thoughts

Those with undiagnosed pain are advised to check with their GP before trying massage therapy, just to rule out any serious problems. Unfortunately, massage is not suitable for everyone, and you may be affected if you have had recent surgery, or have unhealed wounds, rashes, osteoporosis, and other specific conditions.

Massage – it’s about being good to yourself.

Sharon Cole

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