Back pain is a common, persistent health problem, and is suffered by many people around the world. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) cited that 7.5% of the world’s population in 2017 suffered from lower back pain, with the number of sufferers continuing to increase simultaneously with the increasing growth and aging of the global population.
Your back carries the most physical stress that your body experiences every day. The stress can strain your back muscles including your spine’s supporting ligaments, which ultimately limits your mobility, and consequently affects your life’s quality.
Several conditions have been associated with causing back pain, which has been a significant public health concern. The leading cause among them all remains physical stress, which varies in intensity based on the nature of work or lifestyle of the individual experiencing it.
Effective treatments are necessary to manage back pain, given how it is a significant public health concern globally. Considering a massage approach to tackling the problem, we will be discussing in this article, five therapies that have been proven effective for the treatment of back pain.
1. Neuromuscular Massage
A neuromuscular massage is a form of standard therapy that focuses on relaxing tightened spots within strained muscle fibers. These spots are also known as trigger points and cause pain and weakness, including discomfort in specific areas of the body.
If carried out by a qualified neuromuscular therapist, this type of massage is very effective for the lower treatment or upper back pain, including other types of muscular pain caused by physical stress due to job nature, lifestyle, accidents, or injuries.
Using a variety of precise manual techniques, neuromuscular therapy maintains relaxed and lengthened muscles. As a result, pain, discomfort, and stress are consequently reduced anywhere they are being experienced in the body, especially the lower and upper back, which falls within the context of this article.
Neuromuscular therapy first emerged in Europe during the mid-1930s and was then introduced to the U.S. with the work of Chiropractor, Raymond L. Nimmo. He conceptualized the phenomenon of trigger points in soft tissue manipulation.
Nimmo’s concept was then advanced in theory by Janet Travell, MD, one of the leaders in neuromuscular therapy research. Pain responses, according to Travell’s theory, are activated at specific points within the body when the nerves in the muscles get stimulated by the buildup of metabolic waste products in stressed muscle fibers.
Practically speaking, a typical neuromuscular massage session for someone suffering back pains would involve the Neuromuscular Therapist using pressure strokes to loosen the specific pain trigger point in the person’s back. The procedure is repeated several times to reduce all muscle pain and all tensions.
2. Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage includes applying deep pressure in body tissue and as close as possible to the bone. The session usually starts with light pressure strokes to warm up the shallow layers of the muscles. It later advances into more inward pressure rubs to target the internal muscle layers and connective tissue.
This massage can be adopted for the treatment of lower and upper back pain. It facilitates the relaxation of tightly knotted muscles that cause pain, including the breaking up of scar tissues formed due to injuries.
It is believed that deep tissue massage originated in Ancient Egypt, after which it was adopted by Canada in the late 1800s. However, in 1949, Therese Phimmer is credited with popularizing the technique after formalizing the rules of the practice in her book titled “Muscles: Your Invisible Bonds.” Her book served as a guide for many of the first therapists.
Due to the nature of this type of therapy, you may experience some form of discomfort during your session with the therapist, which is normal. The massage may not loosen up muscle knots effectively if it’s done too gently, but be sure to inform the therapist if you feel any unusual discomfort or unbearable pain.
Additionally, it is worth noting that after having a deep tissue massage, it is normal to feel some pain or soreness lasting a few days. Deep tissue therapy is known to cause some aching. Therefore, do not fret because any pain you feel is part of the recovery process.
3. Myofascial Massage
Myofascial massage therapy is also known as Myofascial Release, and shares similarities with neuromuscular therapy. It involves the massaging of pain trigger points to aid pain relief, but with myofascial therapy, the pain trigger points in the fascia are particularly focused on by the massage therapist.
In a typical session for someone with back pain, the therapist would focus on first identifying the tight spots in the affected area. Gentle pressure strokes are applied to feel for tightened muscle spots in the fascia, followed by slowly increased pressure to loosen up the identified trigger points. All these consequently relieve the back muscles of tension and pain.
Myofascial therapy was a concept proposed as alternative medicine by Andrew Still—the inventor of osteopathy. He promoted the concept along with his early students but was formalized in the 1960s with the coined term “myofascial release,” by Osteopath, Robert Ward, and physiotherapist, John Barnes. Both of them are considered the founders of myofascial therapy.
Essentially, Myofascial Therapy helps to reduce muscular tension by relaxing trigger points across the body’s muscular system. Repetition of the procedure by a therapist multiple times on the pain trigger point in your back, and other connective areas, proves effective for fully releasing the back muscles of tension and relieving them of pain.
4. Swedish Massage
The goal of a Swedish massage is to relax tense muscles with the use of rhythmic techniques such as effleurage, tapotement, petrissage vibration, and friction. These techniques involve long, flowing strokes, including kneading and tapping.
Cramped muscles causing pain in either the lower or upper back can be loosened by a trained massage therapist, using any of Swedish massage techniques to help patients feel relaxed. The pressure applied using any of the techniques is more focused on the tense back muscles, and usually depends on the client’s sensitivity.
As popular as Swedish massage is around the world, and revered by the massage industry, an interesting thing that a lot of people don’t know is that it hasn’t always been called Swedish massage. It was first known as Swedish gymnastics and was developed as a system of physical rehabilitation by a Swedish man from Stockholm named Henrik Ling.
Ling is considered the father of Swedish massage therapy. He combined his knowledge of gymnastics and physiology from Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures to form the early form of technique. The technique entered the United States in 1858 as “The Swedish Movement Cure,” but consequently evolved into what is now known as “Swedish massage”.
In summary, the Swedish massage is effective for aiding back pain relief. It will encourage blood circulation within tense areas of the back muscles, including the softening of surrounding connective tissues.
5. Reflexology Massage
Just like the other forms of therapy, reflexology also involves the application of pressure of varying intensities, but in this case, the pressure is applied to the reflex areas in the ears, hands, and feet to offer a range of health benefits.
Back pain relief is one of the benefits that this technique provides among others like boosting the immune system and even fighting cancer. The reflex areas in the feet are theorized to be in connection with the muscular systems that make up the back or spinal region, including other organs and parts of the body.
These reflex areas in each foot are connected to the spine, and located along each foot’s entire inner edge, starting from the base of the big toenail to that of the heel. Additionally, they also correspond to the vertebrae of the spine.
According to one theory, Reflexology is said to have its original roots in Chinese medicine which mapped out different pressure points on the body which it proposes can be linked to different body parts. They believe energy can be channeled to areas of the body that need healing through touch.
Another theory by British scientists In the 1890s proposes that the skin and the body’s internal organs are all connected by nerves. The body’s nervous system was also discovered to internally respond to touch, including other external factors.
Whether a reflexologist therapy adopts the approach of using the mapped-out pressure points to determine where to apply pressure to heal the body of illnesses or uses touch to calm the central nervous system, the main aim is to promote body relaxation, including the reduction of stress and anxiety similar to other forms of massage therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the most common cause of back pain?
The leading cause of back pain is physical stress or tension. This is usually due to the nature of work or the lifestyle of the individual experiencing it.
Is a massage good for back pain?
Yes, it is. Massage has been proven effective in treating both lower and upper back pain.
How does massage reduce back pain?
Massage reduces back pain by relaxing the stressed or tense muscles within the area where the pain is being felt.
Can massage make back pain worse?
A massage is supposed to make you feel better, but if it makes you feel worse, it’s either your therapist applied too much pressure, or that the pain is probably caused by a muscle injury, for which you may need to see a doctor for further diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
All the five types of massage therapy discussed follow different procedures. However, they all share the same goals which include relaxing stressed or tense muscles and relieving them of pain. to improve the general wellbeing of the body.
Any of the discussed types of massage is effective for treating back pain, regardless of whether the pain is felt either in the lower or upper back. As a safety measure, ensure you visit a qualified massage therapist who is trained in offering the type of massage you choose.