Massage Therapy for Low Back Pain
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
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What is low back pain?
Low back pain is the most common complaint of people and up to 90% of adults will experience some form of low back pain in their lives. Low back pain is a common term that can include gluteal pain/weakness, lumbar disc herniation, pinched/compressed nerve, lumbar muscle spasm or contraction, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), and many other possible conditions.
What are the causes of low back pain?
There are many causes of low back pain. One very common one is muscle strain (80-85% according to the Cleveland clinic) related to the sedentary lifestyle of people, either through their job, commute, or any time one sits for more than an hour at a time. While sitting, the gluteus maximus (largest glute) is long and stretched out. Neurologically, it becomes inactive. This isn't a big deal, until we attempt activity, like playing with children, going for a walk, playing sports, or even doing a physical job. Without reactivating glutes, our body will attempt to compensate for the inactive muscles, causing those to become overworked, most often compensation happens in hamstrings and low back. This often leads to muscle strains, and could even contribute to instability or disc herniation.
Another common cause of low back pain is a lumbar disc herniation, where pressure creates an often small bulge in a disc in the low back causing intense sharp pain, tension and often spasm to the surrounding musculature. In this case, rest is often the best course of treatment for the first week or 2 depending on the severity, then slowly introducing treatment once the disc has had a chance to heal.
Treatment for low back pain
In the past several years, many different academic journals, like the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, has begun recommending manual therapies as an alternative to opioid medications (https://www.amtamassage.org/opioids) even for those with chronic pain. Due to the damaging long-term effects of opioids, the highly addictive nature, and harmful side-effects, many doctors are looking to more natural therapies to manage their patients pain, like Massage Therapy. Massage Therapists can help determine if you have a muscle strain or something more serious, like a herniation. Massage to the strained muscles can help them relax, but, more importantly, addressing the weakness that caused the strain can help patients recover and prevent further pain in the future.
When patients sit for more than a hour at a time, reactivation of glutes is recommended. This can be done with simple exercises, like yoga bridges or donkey kicks, prior to activity. If you have low back pain, and can only do 1 exercise, this is the one you need to do. Lift and hold for 10 seconds, and do it 3 times.
If you are ready to undertake a little more involved exercise plan, check out the one below for a more comprehensive guide. For products to help with the below exercises, check out: Foam Roller, Resistance Bands,