Can Massage Therapy Help My Lower Back Pain?

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Can Massage Therapy Help My Lower Back Pain?

Can Massage Therapy Help My Lower Back Pain?

Can massage therapy help my pain? The answer to this question is more complicated than you would think. Massage Therapy research is all over the map. For starters, there are some inherent conflicts with the studies because people LIKE massages. And people are more likely to choose massage over another treatment that they do not like, even if something else could be more effective.

Back Pain is Common

To examine how others have answered the question, let’s start by taking a look at lower back pain in general. Did you know it is normal to have some pain sometimes? Lower back pain is the 2nd most common cause of disability in the USA and a surprisingly common cause of missed work. 80% of Americans will have an episode of low back pain in their lifetime. So you are not alone if your back is feeling achy and sad. 

Back Pain is Often Non-Spesific

Medical professionals are historically bad at treating lower back pain. You might have experience with a doctor suggesting a list of seemingly unrelated treatments for your pain, like throwing a dart at a target with their eyes closed, hoping for a bullseye. That may be because the WHO lists that 60-70% of back pain is “Non-specific,” meaning the cause is unknown. cause.  If we do not know what the cause is, planning the treatment becomes extremely difficult. The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke lists about 30 different possible causes and contributing factors to back pain alone. 

Research is Complicated and Low Quality

To complicate matters, though massage has excellent research supporting the treatments of both depression and anxiety, the research is rather underwhelming in the area of back pain. Instead, movement is often the recommended treatment. However, massage can incorporate things that are not massage; On table exercise, stretching, mobilizations, and resistance might also be included in your message. So the research that measures the effectiveness of just massages on back pain, isn’t really accurate when a therapist is including these other treatments to help you recover.

Body Mechanics Sports Massage Therapist Matt performing a lower back massage NYC
Sports Massage Therapist Matt massaging a client’s back. Photo credit Adam Ninyo

Pain is Complicated

Muddying the matter further, pain in your back may not solely be caused by an injury. Going back to that WHO the number of 60-70% of back pain being nonspecific, many of us have back pain that chronically exists and isn’t a reaction to a movement or standing or bending. Pain is generated for a number of reasons, the number one being to protect you. Your nervous system takes into a number of variables such as your medical history, your environment, your mental state, your sensitivity, your general physical health and more, before it generates pain as a warning. 

So how do you know if massage is for you and your  back pain?

It is a hard question. I suggest you ask yourself the following:

Massage therapist treating low back pain

  1. Is it safe? I recommend having a diagnosis from a doctor and being out of the range of acute pain before coming in. Even when the diagnosis is “non-specific back pain,” it’s important to rule out other injury as the culprit. Being able to lay still and be touched for the duration of the massage is important, so if your back is too sensitive to touch, wait a day or two.
  2. Am I seeking an alternative route of pain management? When natural and over-the-counter options aren’t up to the task, massage can be a powerful ally in pain mitigation.
  3. Do I like it? If you enjoy being touched and it makes you feel safe, that can be advantageous. Our mental well-being affects the physical, so the boost from treating yourself and the physical connection of massage could help with your pain.
  4. Am I using it in addition with another rehab? If you are in physical therapy, massage can loosen up tight muscles and make a big difference in increasing ease of movement.
  5. Am I additionally stressed or depressed? If you’re burning the candle at both ends or in a stressful time, massage might really help. The trauma of being injured itself can be very stressful and so managing that can be a huge boost to recovery.
  6. Has massage worked for me before? If you have a history of massage working for you it is a good bet that it will work again!

If you answered yes to a few of those questions, then massage therapy might be a great choice for you and your back pain. Check out our booking options for medical massage to see if is right for you:) 

Stay tuned for our next blog on what goes into a good massage for back pain.

Back Pain & Knee Pain: Body Mechanics’ Orthopedic Study Corner

Our second look at recent studies and findings in the world of body and movement science!

massage therapist matt

Welcome back to Body Mechanics Study Corner where we do all the research so you don’t have to! Actually, Matt does all the research. Normally he does this to satiate his own thirst for knowledge and drive to learn any findings that could make him a better massage therapist, but once again we are offering up the fruits of his labor up to you all. We hope you find it enlightening and interesting.

Reads

What are the Major Contributing Factors to Osteoarthritis Knee Pain?

Many people suffer with knee pain and many people are given a list of different things that could be causing that pain. Todd Hargrove, of Physio Network, sought out to get to the bottom at the issue and find the real root of the issue.  He analyzed a study comparing general health workshops, high load strength training, and low load strength training for people with knee osteoarthritis, to see which method produced the most relief. Interestingly, he found that all three methodologies produced about the same amount of results, meaning the most important factor was the work being something the person would actually do consistently. These findings debunk the notions of “wear and tear” being the vague, inevitable, problem causing these osteoarthritis knee issues. 

Videos

Pinpointing Pain Along the Scapula

In the video above, physical therapist Marc Surdyka DPT discusses why most pain felt along the medial border of the scapula is actually referred from the structures of the neck. Without addressing habitually poor conditions such as sleep quantity and quality, and a lack of breaks when sitting for a long time, chronic shoulder pain will return no matter how much you roll your back out and stretch.

Interview with Dr. Mark Laslett on SI Joint Pain

This is a long one, but if you’re interested in Sacroiliac Joint pain then this is the video for you! Sports therapist Matt Phillips interviews Mark Laslett PT PhD about all things SI joint pain. Dr. Laslett is a true giant in the world of musculoskeletal physiotherapy, with over 50 years of experience as both a treating clinician and research scientist. Dr Laslett discusses the extra joint pain women feel when pregnant and theorizes that the cause of SI joint pain may, in fact, be chemical and not physical!

Research

What’s Really Helping Our Back Pain After Exercise

Working out and getting a massage to address your lower back issues are a surefire path to pain relief, right? Maybe not! This systematic review examined 16 studies to see if the reason exercise therapy really improves pain and disability levels in people. Surprisingly, the takeaway here is that brain functions and psychological health may have a bigger impact on chronic back pain, than regular exercise.

Bdy Mechanics Sports Massage Therapist showing cow pose for home care back pain presentation

Will Clients Do Their Homework?

Home-care is an important part of healing and strengthening. But what can we, as massage therapists, do to get clients to actually do the work at home? A study found at the National Library of Medicine tracked the progress of over a hundred military service people in physical therapy. It found that the recovering clients who had 4 or more exercises were far less likely to complete their at home work than the ones who were given only 2. From this, healthcare providers can see that it’s more important to be practical with a client’s home care notes, instead of giving them a long regimen of all the most effective exercises.  

Thanks for reading! Use the comments below to let us know what findings you found most interesting or if you have a contradictory idea about anything here. Also, let us know if you want to see a certain theory researched or explained in our next post.

BERET’S REVIEW OF ROCKTAPE FMT ROCKPODS ONLINE CUPPING CLASS

What are RockTape and RockPods?

cupping class rockpods

This is a fantastic place to start as not everyone is familiar with RockTape or the products that go along with them. RockTape is a trademarked brand that came out of the whole kenisio tape popularity. Their particular tape is mostly targeted to athletes, specifically for CrossFit. I do not want to get into the discussion here on if keniso tape works or not but I will say, if I want to tape, I really like RockTape best, as it is very sticky (especially their H2O version) and it is made for people who sweat rather unlike the clinical tape. I use it with my sports massage patients and clients.

Over the years, they have come out with several other products and changed from just a taping company into what they say is a movement company, and have many products and classes that fall under that umbrella. There are topical analgesics and warmers, stretching bands, compression movement gear, rollers, and more. For this, we are looking at their version of cupping, which they call “RockPods.”

What was the cupping class?

So the class I took was RockPods, it was a one-day, 6-hour cupping class. It is actually part of a series of a 2-day event that included another product called RockFloss. I took this during the pandemic, so it was entirely online. I used this class for my NYS LMT Continuing Education Credit – or CEU. The class covered the history of cupping, decompression, research around cupping, treatment considerations, exposure therapy, cupping techniques, and thinking out of the box. Our teacher was a CrossFitter named Jen Deiter. This class had a wide range of students, including LMT’s, Physios, Chiros and trainers. I think the broad spectrum of professionals that were in the class shows the usefulness of cupping when done correctly.

After a brief tour of the history of cupping, we went into what RockTape is selling. I want to note this class was not about Wet Cupping or cups you can slide across the body for fascia work. The “pods,” as they call them, are really made for a static application. Which brings me to my next point, how was it to take a manual class online? Well, since you asked…it was actually fine! Since these cups are not about creating drag, there is no single treatment routine that you have to memorize. You practice putting the cups on and taking them off, and the main takeaway from the class is to think of possible uses for that kind of application. This was another benefit of having many kinds of professionals in the class. Each one explained how they might adapt the “Pods” to their own work. Massage therapists might use standard cupping while PTs might focus on more proprioceptive uses.

We learned 3 suction techniques to apply these cups during the class. You can practice attaching the cups to any available part of your body on your own, other than your mid-back. So we spent a portion of the time going body part by body part and exploring what it felt like. The cups are, in general, easy to use and feel pretty good. They get the job done. It is something I could certainly use in treatment for people who like that pulling sensation.

The rest of the class was more about theories and different applications of cupping than manual massage techniques. They theorized what cupping does decompression-wise on the client. By “decompression,” I mean suctioning the skin up into the cup so that it creates lift across the skin. So we would watch a demonstration via video of that usage and have a little discussion and feedback on it. If you are not a manual therapist, this is where things get more interesting for you, as this is the portion where RockTape has tried to approach cupping as more of a modern science-based solution. They spoke about the benefits in general of decompression, ways to use the cups in more of a proprioception re-education capacity, and desensitization (for pain). These ideas are outside the scope of the traditional cupping framework and they are how RockTape moves into their rebranding as a movement company.

What did I think of the cupping class?

owner and massage therapistof Body Mechanics Massage LMT Beret Loncar
Owner Beret Loncar

I always keep in mind, as a science-informed practitioner, that I will never be 100% satisfied with all manual classes. As far as a treatment, cupping is fairly passive so it falls on the lower end of the value in the intervention spectrum. But as you can definitely apply these by yourself, there is the option to give these tools to a patient to give them a sense of autonomy. Self-treating without being dependent on a therapist is a big plus. If it gives ongoing relief the client can do it whenever they have time and gives them a mental boost to be able to help themselves.

I am also a big fan of mixed-level classes. Having many kinds of professionals in a class adds a lot of value for me. Our health and wellness system has a lot of unwellness in it, and some of that can be healed through respect, collaboration, as well as access to better information. Kudos to RockTape for going jumping through all the hoops to make this class-compliant to Massage CEU requirements. They are a pain in the ass and many companies don’t bother.

I would still love a pod that I can slide, as some people like that sensation. I get that this is not the function of their product so I am not going to get it, but it feels a little limiting. These are tools that are primarily used to treat a “feeling” by creating another feeling, so why not give me all the options!?

The teacher, Jen, certainly knew the product and her way around the body. Since I do a lot of sports massage, I got on with her sporty vibe very well. She presented the material well. She did not overly focus on or push CrossFit or herself, which I deeply appreciate. We do not take courses to give people platforms to push personal agendas.

As far as being online, this course translated very well. It was an easy, fast-moving, way to look at cupping in a number of different ways. I think some other manual courses probably do not lend well to online teaching. This class moved back and forth between lecture and demo so it was paced pretty well.

RockTape is a company with a product – they are not a research company. They don’t have millions of dollars to pour into scientific research, but they took the time and made a genuine effort to make a real case for the benefits of RockPods. They have invested in some research on the lift aspect, although it is not quantifiable and they did make an effort to find some supporting research. Because it is a product, it is a little reverse engineered, the research does not necessarily lead to an endorsement, and we know there is a great body of research that supports a move towards more active interventions. RockPods counter to that would be that their suggested uses require movement and or proprioception.

Still, they had a knowledgeable teacher speak from a place of authority and had people from different professions give various applications for the products. So I would definitely suggest attending it if you’re interested in sports therapies, we are treating humans, not data. Let’s face it, I am a manual therapist in a manual therapy class, so there is that:)

If you are interested in cupping as a modality and just want to dip a toe in, I would give this online course a go. Keep in mind you will need to take another class if you want to learn a full cupping routine. To check out some of our other CEU reviews you can look at Walt Fritz’s Myofascial release seminar.