Have you ever considered a back massage for back pain? Do you wonder if it is really effective or would help you? Let us find out.
Back pain and neck pain are often quite irritating and take time to go. Most of the back pains we have are due to postural abuse of the spine or degenerative changes in the spine. Modern medical treatment does not put much emphasis on massage therapy for back pain but traditional treatments worldwide use massage for many of the perceived benefits.
The question is whether massage would really help your back pain or it is just another much-hyped alternative treatment.
Medical treatment protocols for back pain conditions include pain drugs, muscle relaxants, exercise therapy, and, in few cases, surgery.
But as the massage is a kind of natural and familiar activity, people are increasingly exploring it for back pain.
Well! I am a practitioner of modern medicine and I do believe that anything that will not harm the patient and has the potential of providing a positive impact [even if it is placebo], can be tried unless contraindicated.
With that thing in mind, let us know more about massage.
What is Massage?
Massage can be termed as the use of hands or tools to produce relief by rubbing, stroking, and kneading skin and muscles in the area.
It is supposed to work by
- Increasing the blood flow
- Enhancing the oxygen delivery
- Eliminating waste products.
- Release of endorphins
Endorphins are the natural chemicals in the body that lead to feeling good. This helps in easing chronic pain.
Back massage for back pain works on the same principle and often provides relief from muscle spasms, aches, stiffness, and sharp pains.
Broadly speaking, the massage could be superficial and deep, the distinction being the difference in applied pressure.
Various names have been given based on differences in techniques which are not of much interest to us at this moment.
One of the massage techniques that is included in the modern treatment protocol is neuromuscular technique that is mostly used for trigger points but also for muscle spasms
Massage can be done by self or by another person in the household. You might want to visit a local massage center if you are not comfortable about doing it at home.
Specialized commercial massagers are also available.
I must emphasize is that for a back massage, you would often need someone else to do the massage work.
Is Back Massage for Pain Really Effective? Is There Enough Evidence
Massages and massage techniques have been passed from one generation to the next and are often part of the culture. But specifically speaking there is not substantial documented evidence yet. There have been some studies that point to the benefits of massage but more studies may be required before we can say it in black and white if it is effective or not.
That is also a major hindrance in including massage as treatment as the treatment has to be based on evidence and not perception.
On the same note, I must mention that perception is of utmost importance to the patient.
Nevertheless, here are some important studies on back massage for back pain
- A 2012 study reported that clients tend to think positively of massage and that contributes to positive changes
- A 2010 study by Furlan et al. found massage to be better than placebo
- Zheng et al found that massage and lumbar traction produced better improvement in the pain than lumbar traction alone.
- A 2011 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that massage may be effective for treatment of low-back pain, without any meaningful difference between the two types of massages studied [relaxation and hard massage]
- A 2001 at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami found that the massage lessened lower back pain, depression and anxiety, and improved sleep along with an improved range of motion and their serotonin and dopamine levels were higher.
When is Back Massage Most Helpful?
Back massage is more effective in pains of muscular origin, spasm, strain, postural aches and chronic pains.
It works best when combined with other types of treatments.
Back massage is not indicated when there are underlying bone disorders like tumors or traumatic back pains and infections.
If you are in doubt You may want to consult your physician before you go for a massage to see if it is contraindicated. It is always better to check with your physician first.
Usually, the muscle spasm is relieved in 2-3 sittings and if it does not, back massage therapy may not be the best treatment option.
Combining Back Massage Therapy with Other Treatments
Often, for the best results, back massage therapy is combined with medical treatments such as physical therapy. This has been found to be more effective than the back massage alone.
- Boulanger K, Campo S, Glanville J, Loew J, Yang J. The development and validation of the client expectations of massage scale. Int J Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. 2012;5(3):3–15. doi: 10.3822/ijtmb.v5i3.1767. [PubMed]
- Zheng Z, Wang J, Gao Q, Hou J, Ma L, Jiang C, et al. Therapeutic evaluation of lumbar tender point deep massage for chronic non-specific low back pain. J Tradition Chin Med. 2012;32(4):534–537. doi: 10.1016/S0254-6272(13)60066-7. [PubMed]
- Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, Wellman R, Cook AJ, Johnson E, et al. A comparison of the effects of two types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(1):1–9. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-155-1-201107050-00002. [PubMed]
- Munk N, Boulanger K. Adaptation of the CARE Guidelines for therapeutic massage and bodywork publications: efforts to improve the impact of case reports. Int J Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. 2014;7(3):32–40. [PubMed]
- Laura Allen. Case Study: The Use of Massage Therapy to Relieve Chronic Low-Back Pain. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2016 Sep; 9(3): 27–30.