Back pain is a common ailment among Americans. It’s estimated that 8 in 10 adults will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, and for almost 2 in 10, it will be a chronic issue. In other words, the pain won’t go away — and sometimes, it can be difficult to identify the source. Beyond your spine, your back is also home to major muscles and nerves that connect with other parts of your body. Strains or stresses that impact other areas of your body can manifest themselves as back pain.
Massage is one conservative treatment for back pain that has shown considerable promise in research. Studies in the Journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the International Journal of Neuroscience, among others, have found massage therapy to provide relief from back pain. A 2011 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that looked at 400 people with moderate to severe lower back pain showed considerable effects from massage. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive weekly full-body massages, weekly massages focused on specific muscle problems, or to continue with whatever they had already been doing to manage their pain. After 10 weeks, those receiving both types of massage reported greater improvements in their levels of pain than those who had not gotten massages. On average, their self-reported pain levels improved by 2 points on a 10-point scale. However, more than one-third of the patients in each massage group reported that their pain was nearly or completely gone.
Why might massage be so beneficial? Physically, it helps enhance blood flow and circulation, which can relieve soreness and soft tissue injury (for example, if you’ve strained a muscle in your back). It also decreases the tension in muscles. The relaxation isn’t just physical though — massage can also help improve your mood. Massage can help release endorphins (your brain’s “feel good” chemical), which can alleviate anxiety and depression. These issues can be brought on by chronic pain, and though they aren’t physically felt, that anguish can intensify the experience of the pain.
That said, massage is not going to be helpful for all back pain. It can alleviate pain from some causes, but for others — for example, pain caused by spinal stenosis or sciatica — it’s less likely to help. Massage is most likely to help back pain caused by muscle strain. This could be caused by an acute incident, like improperly lifting a heavy object, sudden twisting, or a fall or other injury. Muscle strain can also be brought on by chronic injury over time, however — regularly slumping, slouching, or leaning can bring on strain. Massage may also have benefits from those who suffer from spinal osteoarthritis, but it is important to find a masseuse who has special training in working with patients with arthritis.
Though massage is noninvasive and relatively safe, if you are experiencing chronic back pain you should check with a doctor before starting massage therapy. An improper technique or back pain caused by an ailment that would contraindicate massage could actually worsen your pain, not improve it. If you are suffering from chronic back pain and searching for a proper diagnosis, the Spine Institute Northwest can help. Call us today at 206-496-0630.