If you experience back pain on a regular basis, you’re probably looking for a way to alleviate your back pain using a holistic treatment? While doctors may offer medications, injections, or surgery, massage therapy offers an alternative to those types of treatments, which in some cases, may even make your pain worse.
While there are many holistic ways to treat your back pain, massage therapy and other forms of bodywork offer a great option for back pain treatment.
But before you rush to make your first appointment, a first good step is to learn about how bodywork treatments can help your back pain, the risks and benefits, and what to expect during a massage treatment. In this guide, we’re going to share all that and more. Here’s what you’ll find.
Table of Contents
Types of pain
Massage therapy and other types of bodywork have a positive impact on back pain. Here are some types of pain massage therapy may help.
Upper back pain
Low back pain
Chronic back pain
Back pain associated with labor
Pain associated with cancer and cancer treatment
Back pain associated with Fibromyalgia
How Massage Treatments May Help
When chosen as a holistic back pain treatment, massage therapy can alleviate your pain in many ways. A massage therapist may use different parts of their own body to do your therapy sessions, including feet, hands, elbows, forearms, or fingers.
A massage therapist’s goal when treating your back pain is to increase your circulation, level of relaxation, and overall wellness. A bodyworker is also working to alleviate your stress levels, help you heal from any injuries, and reduce and relieve your back pain.
As a documented and evidence-based treatment option that may help with your back pain. The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society came together in 2007 and created a joint clinical practice guideline for treating low-back pain. The joint clinical guideline concluded that physicians and conventional care providers who have patients whose back pain has not improved from conventional care should consider massage and other holistic back pain treatments.
There are many types of bodywork to consider as effective treatment methods, so let’s review those.
Types of massage and bodywork
The two types of bodywork often used for back pain are Swedish massage and deep tissue massage. But there are many types of massage for pain, including:
If you’re wondering what to expect during your first massage treatment, take a look at this guide. Other types of bodywork that may also help with back pain include:
Massage therapists are trained in many techniques and will use specific massage therapy techniques directed at the areas of the body that may be causing low back pain. This may include:
Structural. Including L1 to L5 and the sacroiliac joint, hips, and pelvis.
Muscular. Including the extensors of the back, gluteal muscles, abdominal flexors, iliopsoas muscle, and lateral obliques.
Connective tissue. Including tendons, ligaments, fascia, scar tissue, joint capsules, and neural tissue.
Trigger points. Specific areas of tension and tightness.
Back pain is a very common experience during pregnancy, along with other types of prenatal pain. Many massage therapists will specialize in prenatal and postnatal massage which may offer great relief to the various types of pain you may be experiencing, including back pain.
Upper back pain
Many people ask: do massages help upper back pain? The answer is yes. Massage is helpful for many types of pain, including upper back pain which may include neck pain and shoulder pain. However, studies like this one typically show that massage provides short-term relief of upper back pain and may not improve the functional status of your upper back, shoulders, or neck.
Lower Back Pain
Many people want to know the best type of massage for lower back pain. Studies have shown that the type of massage is not really relevant to the benefits you receive from regular bodywork. For example, this study showed that people who received weekly, one-hour massage had “less pain and were better able to perform daily activities after 10 weeks than those who received usual care.”
This study on massage took a look at a variety of studies on massage for chronic pain. This included pain associated with recurrent non-malignant conditions such as fibromyalgia, mixed chronic pain conditions, neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Overall, there was much evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of massage as a treatment for chronic pain.
Benefits of Massage for Back Pain
Massage benefits back pain in many ways. Some of the benefits you may experience include:
- Fewer pain sensations
- Increased endorphin levels (the feel-good hormone)
- Improved circulation
- Greater mobility
- Improved flexibility
- Increased range of motion
- Decreased recovery time for muscle strains
- Fewer sleep issues
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Greater sense of well-being
Risk and Side Effects
When bodywork is done by a trained professional massage therapist, it has has a minimal amount of risks and side effects. There are times that body should be avoided. Here is a list of times to avoid going to a massage therapist to keep your personal risks and side effects at the minimal level:
Pregnant: Although there are times where massage can help alleviate pregnancy symptoms of discomfort, always speak to your massage therapist and your OB-GYN or midwife before choosing massage for your back pain. There are instances where massage may while pregnant may not be the best option for you.
Blood disorders: If you live with a blood disorder like hemophilia, you should have their bodyworker do massage sessions without the use of deep tissue techniques.
Blood thinners: If you are taking blood thinners for high blood pressure to avoid clotting, strong deep tissue may cause bruising and other effects.
Wounds: If you have a cut or injury that is still healing, massage should be avoided around the area where you have a wound.
Cancer: If you have a malignant tumor or are fighting a type of cancer you should not have a bodyworker massage the area of your body affected by the tumor or cancer. Speaking with your oncologist before treating back pain with massage therapy and telling the bodyworker about your tumor or cancer battle is important.
How Many Sessions?
You’re probably wondering: How many sessions of massage therapy will I need for back pain?
The impact of massage therapy on back pain usually requires continual bodywork treatments to have sustainable positive effects and benefits. This is because the alleviation of pain through massage therapy is not long-term.
When it comes to the number of sessions that you will need for back pain the key is routine bodywork sessions. There are two studies that recommended a different number of sessions.
The first study compared the two types of massage, relaxation massage, structural massage and the usual treatment for back pain used by conventional care.
Here is what techniques the three compared treatment types used:
Relaxation massage: Swedish massage, long stroking, kneading, and deep circular motions
Structural massage: soft tissue techniques for stretching, lengthening, loosening.
Conventional care: back pain education, prescription pain medications, and muscle relaxers, back exercises, and physical therapy
The study found that if people with back pain received 10 one hour massage therapy sessions over the course of 10 weeks, they experienced higher pain relieve than those that were receiving conventional back pain treatment at the 10-week mart of treatment.
After six months, the benefits of massage therapy still outweigh those of conventional back pain treatment.
Interestingly, at the one year mark of treatment, the benefits and pain relief differences between massage and conventional treatment dissipated.
Participants assigned to the message groups received 1 hour of massage once a week for 10 weeks. The participants’ symptoms, medication use, and ability to perform daily functions were measured after completion of the 10 treatments, then at 6 months, and again after 1 year.
Significantly greater improvements in disability and bothersomeness of symptoms were seen at 10 weeks in both massage groups compared to those who received usual care. For example, at 10 weeks massage recipients were better able to perform daily activities, were more active, spent fewer days in bed, and used less anti-inflammatory medication than those who received usual care. Some of these benefits persisted at 6 months, but at 1 year the benefits of massage over usual care were not significant—when pain and function across all three groups had improved about evenly.
The study concluded that, when it comes to chronic low-back pain, massage therapy can help as a treatment option. If you are looking for the treatment to continue to have a positive impact on reducing your back pain, it is suggested that you go in for routine and continual bodywork.
Self massage is a great way to help alleviate back pain on a budget.
How to massage your lower back
Maybe you want to know how to massage your lower back by yourself. Here are some videos we found that may be helpful.
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How to massage your upper back
Here’s a great method of using tennis balls or golf balls. Use tennis balls for lighter pressure and golf balls for deeper pressure. This works great for trigger points and knots. Here’s the video:
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What part of foot to massage for back pain?
If you want to use foot massage to relieve your back pain, you want to focus on the spinal reflex area of the foot. This is the inside part of your foot, from your big toe, all the way down to your heel.
Here’s a video that shows you the area to massage.
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Other ways to massage your own back
Here’s some additional instruction on how to provide yourself with a full-body massage, including your back, neck, and shoulders.
Other Holistic Therapies to Consider
In addition to meditation, you might consider some of the following therapies to help with your back pain.
Acupuncture for Back Pain
Chiropractic for Back Pain
Meditation Therapy for Back Pain
Tai Chi for Back Pain
Find a Massage Therapist near you
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A Comparison of Massage Therapy and Usual Medical Care for Chronic Low Back Pain. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155:I–28. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/747036/comparison-massage-therapy-usual-medical-care-chronic-low-back-pain
Chou, R., Qaseem, A., Snow, V., Casey, D., Cross, J. T., Shekelle, P., & Owens, D. K. (2007, October 02). Diagnosis and Treatment of Low Back Pain: A Joint Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/736814/diagnosis-treatment-low-back-pain-joint-clinical-practice-guideline-from
Kong, L. J., Zhan, H. S., Cheng, Y. W., Yuan, W. A., Chen, B., & Fang, M. (2013). Massage Therapy for Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2013, 613279.
M., M.Lee, I., J., L., T., T., . . . G., P. (2018, June 27). Massage for Pain. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://www.rand.org/pubs/external_publications/EP67631.html
Massage Therapy for Health Purposes. (2017, March 23). Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/massage/massageintroduction.htm
Massage Therapy Holds Promise for Low-Back Pain. (2015, February 05). Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/070411.htm
Tsao, J. C. I. (2007). Effectiveness of Massage Therapy for Chronic, Non-malignant Pain: A Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 4(2), 165–179. http://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nel109