Can Massage Help Your Back Problem?

Last updated: 07-16-2020

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Can Massage Help Your Back Problem?

For most of us, the answer is probably 'yes', since massage is non-invasive and considered very low risk for most people. In addition to physical benefits, certain types of massage have been shown to help psychologically via relaxation and increased production of 'feel good' chemicals that the body naturally produces (endorphins)--helpful for people with both acute back problems and chronic back pain. This newsletter describes why massage may be right for you.

Massage therapy is becoming more widely accepted in the medical community as a credible treatment for many types of back pain and/or as an adjunct to other medical treatments. Research shows that massage therapy has several potential health benefits for back pain sufferers, including:

Many healthcare providers say they will encourage their patients to pursue massage therapy in addition to medical treatment. If appropriate, you may want to ask your physician for a referral to a massage therapy professional in your area. Additionally, the American Massage Therapy Association website has a directory of trained and licensed massage therapy professionals at http://www.amtamassage.org.

There are numerous back problems that may benefit from massage therapy, including:

Although massage is relatively safe, it is always advisable for patients to first check with their doctor before beginning massage therapy or any other treatment. There are some contraindications for massage therapy, such as (but not limited to): recent surgery; infectious skin disease, rash, or unhealed wound; varicose veins; and osteoporosis.

One question patients often ask is: What kind of massage should I try? For overall relaxation and circulation, many patients find the Swedish massage technique helpful. This technique is characterized by long gliding strokes and kneading motions. For specific pain points, such as a lower back muscle strain, the American Academy of Pain Management recognizes neuromuscular therapy (also called trigger point myotherapy) as an effective treatment. Shiatsu massage is a popular technique that utilizes some of the elements of neuromuscular therapy.

With neuromuscular therapy, the therapist applies alternating levels of concentrated pressure (10-30 seconds) on the areas of muscle spasm. The patient will feel some pain or discomfort from the pressure, but the muscle spasm should be lessened after the massage. Any soreness from the pressure should fade in 1 to 3 days, and the muscles that were worked should be less tight for a week or two afterwards. A typical massage therapy program for muscle spasms consists of four sessions over 6 weeks. Learn more in Neuromuscular massage therapy.

What if periodic appointments with a massage therapist just aren't practical for you? Due to things like busy schedules, travel times to a good massage therapist in your area, or personal privacy, getting a hands-on massage may just not work for your lifestyle. While not an exact substitute for human touch, there may be alternatives. There are many therapeutic products available for use in the home, such as hand-held massagers and massage pillows, which are designed with the goal of mimicking some of the techniques used by massage therapists. For people who have experienced significant pain relief from massage and are interested in investing in a product that delivers overall, massage-like benefits, a massage chair may be an option. Most massage chairs are designed to mimic the Shiatsu and Swedish massage techniques, making them potentially helpful for specific pain points in the back or neck and for overall relaxation. Learn more in Massage chairs for pain relief.

Patients with severe back pain should be checked by medical personnel before beginning massage therapy, and patients should always obtain an accurate medical diagnosis for the cause of their back pain prior to beginning a new treatment such as massage therapy to rule out potentially serious conditions. Many massage therapy professionals will work as part of an interdisciplinary healthcare team for patient evaluation and treatment. The right healthcare team for you will depend on your specific back problem and personal preferences. If you aren't sure who should be on your team, check out Specialists who treat back pain.

About the Spine-health.com Newsletter: Each issue of the Spine-health.com newsletter, SpineNews Update, is written by the founders of Spine-health.com - Peter F. Ullrich, Jr., M.D., Medical Director for Spine-health.com and Stephanie Burke, President of Spine-health.com.The content in the newsletters is not peer reviewed by Spine-health.com’s Medical Advisory Board.The articles to which the Spine-health.com newsletters link have been peer reviewed by members of the Medical Advisory Board.


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