Can massage help with lower back pain?
The misery of back pain
A lot of you reading this will have experienced lower back pain at some point in your life. If you have then you know how miserable and debilitating it can be. Statistics suggest that 8 in every 10 people in the UK are affected by back pain at some point in their life, so you can rest assured that you are not alone.
Research shows that in a one year period, lower back pain affects a third of the UK population and that 2.6 million people in the UK seek advice about their back pain from their GP. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11709/
The reassuring news is that most people will recover from a bad episode of back pain quite quickly, in a matter of days or weeks. But for a few the problem can become chronic and a long term debilitation.
What causes back pain?
There are many things that can contribute to back pain.
- Weak ligaments and muscles around the spine can leave you vulnerable to back pain, or you may have a fall or injury which triggers problems.
- Sometimes the outer layer of a spinal disc might become weak, losing its integrity and pushing on spinal nerve roots. This is medically known as a herniated disc and can cause sciatica and referred pain into the legs or pelvis.
- Osteoarthritis of the spine can also be a cause of back pain. This is caused when the cartilage in the spinal joints – known as the apophyseal or facet joints – becomes worn and degenerates, which then causes the apophyseal joints to become inflamed and painful.
- One of the most common causes of back pain, particularly lower back pain, is a torn or pulled muscle and/or ligament, often called a strain or sprain. A strained muscle usually occurs when the muscle is overstretched and the muscle fibres tear. We might think that a muscle will only get strained if we are doing sporting activities, but strains can occur due to a fall, or if you do an awkward movement or pick up a heavy object with poor body mechanics. Tired and weak muscles are more susceptible to injury and strains.
These are just some of the causes of back pain, but sometimes the true cause is not known, and when this is the case, it is classified as non-specific back pain. In any case, before deciding to try massage for back pain it is always worth taking a visit to your doctor to get checked over first.
Why is massage good for back pain?
So why might massage be a good choice for someone with back pain? Well, it is considered a non-invasive, low-risk treatment for starters, which means that unlike surgical procedures, the risks of complications or injury are very low.
When muscles become strained they often go into spasm and tighten up, restricting your movement more and more. This is your body trying to protect you from further injury, but it can also stop you from getting back to your normal movement and activities and work against your recovery.
Sometimes a muscle in spasm might have a slight restriction in blood supply and therefore a reduction in oxygen. This leads to inefficient cellular metabolism, which can prevent the muscle from recovering and encourage more spasm and inflammation.
- help to relax muscles that are tight or in spasm
- encourage relaxation and blood supply to the muscles
- supply nutrients to the injured tissues
- calm the nervous system, which can often be in the fight and flight end of the spectrum
- stimulate the endorphins, which are pain-inhibiting hormones
Endorphins inhibit pain by binding to the opioid receptors in your brain and work in a similar way to opioid pain medication. This can also enhance your mood and ease anxiety.
So if you are suffering from back pain and have not tried massage, you might want to consider a short course of treatment to see if it helps.
What can I do to help my recovery?
If you are going through an episode of back pain you may be wondering: what can I do in addition to massage to help myself get better?
- Keep moving. One of the best things you can do is to keep moving. This may seem counter-intuitive but movement is far better than being sedentary. Not moving will create more stiffness and ultimately more pain.
- Use hot and cold packs. In the first few days of a flare-up apply cold to the area; after the first 2 or 3 days try applying heat to the area or alternating between hot and cold.
- Take pain killers. In the very acute period of lower back pain anti-inflammatory, pain killers can be helpful. Always follow the advice of your Pharmacist.
- Consider a massage! If after a day or two things haven’t improved, book in for a massage with a qualified and experienced therapist. It can do wonders to help relax and ease the pain.
Can I prevent getting back pain?
It’s not always possible to avoid having back pain but there are lifestyle choices you can make to minimise your chances.
- Keeping active
- Take regular exercise (Current guidelines suggest 150 mins of exercise a week for adults)
- Have massage treatments every 4 to 8 weeks
- Try a pilates or yoga class
- Having breaks during long periods of sitting
- Try back stretching and strengthening exercises
- Try using a foam roller to keep your muscles and fascia supple, for a great guide on how to use a foam roller click here
Prevention is better than cure so try to stay active in life and avoid being too sedentary. Not only can exercise help to prevent you from getting back pain, but it can also be a great stress buster. Stress is another contributor to lower back pain and massage is great for inducing relaxation on both emotional and physical levels, leaving you feeling energised and refreshed, another great ally in the prevention of lower back pain.