Conquering Lower Back Pain with Massage Therapy

Suffering from stubborn lower back pain that isn’t responding to medication? Massage therapy might be the answer.

Massage therapy involves gentle or firm palpation (i.e. touch) of the body’s soft tissues for medical purposes. Using various techniques and levels of pressure, your massage therapist will manipulate sore muscles, fascial adhesions, inflamed tendons/ligaments, and more.

The overarching goal of massage therapy is pain reduction. However, patients may be surprised to learn that massage therapy also boasts the following benefits:

  • Enhances flexibility and range of motion in stiff joints
  • Improves blood flow to an injured area, stimulating the healing process
  • Encourages and supports a robust immune system response
  • Relieves anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia
  • Boosts endorphins, our body’s natural reserve of painkillers
  • Offers a safe alternative to potentially habit-forming medications
  • Releases muscle tension, spasms, and fascial adhesions, common culprits of lower back pain
  • Stimulates the lymphatic system to assist in toxin removal
  • Instills a sense of overall wellness and contentment

The verdict is in: Not only does massage therapy work, it works well.

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, 88% of participants reported experiencing significant pain reduction after undergoing a course of massage therapy. And, 70% agree: Massage therapy should be regarded as a legitimate form of interventional medicine.

Relaxing Soft Tissues with Massage Therapy

Every day, roughly 31 million Americans suffer from lower back pain, making it the leading cause of disability in the United States.

Needless to say, lower back pain can result from a host of different causes. However, certain lower back conditions respond exceedingly well to massage therapy. These include:

  • Muscle/Tendon Strains & Ligament Sprains: When a muscle or tendon (the connective tissue that attaches a muscle to bone) suffers a tear, doctors refer to this as a strain. In contrast, when a ligament (the soft tissue that connects two muscles) rips, physicians call this a sprain. Massage therapy, which specifically targets soft tissues, stimulates blood flow to the area, accelerating healing.
  • Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS): MPS is a chronic pain condition characterized by frequent discomfort in localized areas of muscle, known as trigger points. Indeed, the prefix myo- means muscle. Fascia refers to the connective tissue bands that enwrap and bind your muscles together. When these bands stick together—in fascial adhesions—the underlying muscles can become compressed, generating pain. Specific massage therapy techniques target these adhesions, releasing the muscles from this vice-like grip.
  • Pinched Nerves & Sciatica: A pinched nerve develops when adjacent bony anatomy or soft tissues (e.g. muscles, cartilage, etc.) impinge upon a spinal nerve, resulting in pain. Specifically, your sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in your body, extending from your lumbar spine (or lower back) to your toes. When your sciatic nerve becomes pinched, you may experience searing pain that radiates from your buttocks, down either side of your leg(s), and into your feet. Because irritated tissues (such as the piriformis muscle in your buttocks) often contribute to sciatica, massage is an ideal modality for releasing these locked-up tissues.

 

Massage Uses Beyond the Lower Back

However, massage isn’t simply indicated for lower back pain. In reality, a variety of medical conditions respond positively to massage therapy. Consider embarking on a course of massage therapy if you suffer from any of the following conditions:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Sports or repetitive stress injuries
  • Fibromyalgia (or diffuse musculoskeletal pain and chronic fatigue)
  • Bulging, herniated, or collapsed discs
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Muscle spasticity and contractures
  • Rotator cuff injuries or frozen shoulder
  • Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD)
  • Jaw pain from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  • Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s
  • Anxiety, depression, or insomnia

…among many other uses.

Which Type of Massage Therapy is Best for Me?

Needless to say, your massage therapist has many different tools in his or her arsenal of therapeutic interventions from which to choose. The best technique for you will depend on your specific injury, goals, and comfort. However, some of the most effective massage techniques for pain management include:

Trigger Point Therapy

During trigger point therapy, your massage therapist applies firm pressure to knots that have developed inside tender muscles. Using fingertips, knuckles, or sometimes, even elbows, your therapist will apply localized pressure to the trigger point for approximately 30 seconds. Doing so, forces the knots to release, relaxing muscle spasms and thus resolving pain.

Myofascial Release

Like trigger point therapy, myofascial release involves manipulating trigger points. However, unlike trigger point therapy, myofascial release involves applying gentler pressure over larger swatches of the body for 5-7 minutes at a time. Instead of pressing firmly on specific knots, your massage therapist will stretch the fascia, releasing any adhesions that may have developed.

Craniosacral Massage

Craniosacral massage concentrates on relieving tension that builds up around the skull (i.e. cranium), spine, and sacrum (i.e. pelvis). Focusing on these specific areas is thought to restore cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to adequate flow levels, improving immune system function. Suffering from migraine headaches or sacral pain? Then, this may be the intervention for you.

Sports Massage

Sports massages emphasize the specific muscles that are used to perform a particular task, for example, running and jumping in basketball. They can also be used as a form of rehabilitation, following a repetitive stress injury. Whether you use sports massage to enhance performance, prevent injury, or reduce pain, the session is geared toward functional improvement.

Deep Tissue Massage

During a deep tissue massage, your massage therapist applies firm pressure via long strokes to resolve tension in your body’s deep connective tissues. Although similar to myofascial release, this technique involves applying even harder pressure. Your massage therapist will special pay attention to any tender spots—not those simply involving fascial adhesions.

Swedish massage

Swedish massage is widely regarded as the gentlest of the massage techniques. And, for good reason. The overarching goal of Swedish massage is stress reduction, not necessarily pain management. But, luckily, the two go hand-in-hand. Your body repairs itself much faster when its flight-or-fight systems aren’t running on overdrive. As an added perk, you’ll also sleep better too.

Lymphatic Drainage Massage

As previously mentioned, your lymphatic system assists in toxin removal. But, sometimes, it requires a little kickstart to get it operating adequately. A lymphatic drainage massage purports to do exactly that. During this technique, your massage therapist will concentrate on specific areas of the body where lymph fluid tends to accumulate. Encouraging the body to drain that blocked fluid removes large accumulations of toxins from the body.

Qualifications to Become a Massage Therapist

Becoming a massage therapist requires undergoing a rigorous course of study from a state-accredited massage therapy institution. In addition to mastering the intricacies of musculoskeletal anatomy and physiology, a massage therapist must take additional coursework in body mechanics, bodywork, ethics, and more.

After completing the didactic portion of the program, prospective massage therapists must obtain a certain number of clinical hours performing hands-on work. The required number of hours varies according to state licensing requirements. After a student has logged the requisite hours, the student must then pass a state licensing examination.

If the massage therapist wishes to perform more specialized techniques, additional certificate work may be required per state guidelines. Thereafter, evidence of continuing education must be submitted to maintain licensure.

When looking for a massage therapist, be sure to check out their certifications. Every massage therapist specializes in a variety of different techniques. You likely won’t find the same exact mix of services offered from practice to practice.

Interested in Pursuing Therapeutic Massage for Pain Relief?

If you’ve been suffering from lower back pain, massage therapy just might be the answer. With dozens of techniques from which to choose, it’s not a matter of how simply when. When are you going to take your pain relief journey to the next level?

At the Injury Care Center, our massage therapists collaborate with a team of pain management physicians, physical and occupational therapists, and chiropractors. As with most things in life, we believe that the best approach to pain relief is the multidisciplinary one. At ICC, we give you the best of all worlds, relying on our unique strengthens to devise customized treatment plans that truly deliver BIG results.

For superior outcomes in pain management, contact one of our patient advocates today!