Want to earn continuing education credit for this article? Learn more.
Last Updated 2/12/2020
Considered to be one of the most common reasons Americans seek medical help, low back pain plagues at least four out of five adults at some point in their lives. Capable of causing excruciating pain, finding relief from this common ailment can be tricky. Despite a seemingly endless parade of techniques and products promoting back pain relief, an increasing number of Americans are recognizing that massage therapy ranks near the top of low back pain interventions. Since massage therapists frequently encounter low back pain sufferers, knowing how to guide people on keeping their back pain-free can dramatically boost a client’s quality of life.
Massage Tops Low Back Pain Approaches
Massage therapy has been a coveted way to relieve low back pain for as long as historical documents on the subject exist. However, one study commands an even greater level of respect for massage’s effectiveness at helping this problem. As published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a study funded by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine evaluated the effectiveness of massage therapy for chronic low back pain.
In this study, over 400 participants with chronic low back pain either received weekly whole-body massages for relaxation, weekly massages that focused on specific muscle problems around the lower back and hips, or usual care. Those receiving usual care typically took pain medications or muscle relaxants, saw doctors or chiropractors, received physical therapy or simply did nothing. The researchers found that both types of massage therapy were much more effective at relieving low back pain than usual care. After 10 weeks of intervention, the following was reported:
- 36 percent of patients receiving weekly whole-body relaxation massage said their pain was nearly or completely gone.
- 39 percent of patients receiving weekly massage that focused on specific muscle problems around the lower back and hips said their pain was nearly or completely gone.
- Just 4 percent of patients receiving usual care said their pain was nearly or completely gone.
Tips to Prevent Back Pain
Massage therapy’s ability to relieve back pain is rarely disputed, but therapists can also help their clients prevent low back pain recurrence. The following suggestions can help prevent low back pain from returning:
- Quit Smoking – Smoking cigarettes seems to worsen just about every known health condition, including low back pain. Likely because smoking hinders blood circulation, experts assert that smokers are 30 percent more likely to suffer from back pain than non-smokers.
- Get Up and Move – Whether behind a wheel, in front of a computer or just watching TV, sitting for extended periods of time is one of the worst positions for the low back. The spinal discs are spongy and cushion the vertebrae, but they naturally have poor blood supply. Upon getting up and moving, fluid circulates around the discs. On the other hand, sitting starves the discs of fluid making them vulnerable to damage.
- Stretch and Strengthen Core Muscles – Most physicians agree that regular stretching and strengthening of the core muscles constitute the most important lifestyle practices for preventing back pain. Advise clients in a safe stretch and strengthen program with a focus on back, abdominal, oblique and leg muscles.
- Lift Properly – Those who lift heavy objects for a living are well aware of the importance of body mechanics, but the rest of us may not be. Always engage abdominal muscles during a lift, bend the knees, keep back straight, don’t bend at the waist, keep object close to the body, do not hold an item higher than armpits or lower than knees, don’t move something over 20 percent of your body weight, don’t pivot, twist or turn while lifting, point feet at the item being lifted, and only change direction with the feet (not the waist). These instructions will help prevent back muscles from being strained.
- Wear Back-Friendly Shoes – Supportive, low-heeled or flat shoes are crucial for preventing back injury. Although high heels may be high fashion, they increase the arch in the low back. This spinal alignment change increases one’s susceptibility to low back injury.
Because they offer one of the most effective techniques for relieving low back pain, massage therapists are in an ideal position to advise their clients on injury prevention. By emphasizing the hazards of smoking, sitting and wearing high heels while also encouraging proper strengthening, stretching and lifting, therapists can effectively help their clients get rid of low back pain for good.
Earn continuing education credit for this article contained in our Low Back Pain series. Click here to enroll.