Can Massage Therapy Help My Lower Back 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.