Today I want to explore massage and its role in ongoing lower back pain.
There is evidence to suggest that massage can be beneficial in reducing pain in chronic lower back pain however the underlying mechanisms are inconsistent across research. My question is, if massage was as beneficial as some studies claim, why isn’t massage solving the chronic back pain epidemic?
First of all I would like to highlight the point that everyone’s back pain is different and therefore there are no hard and fast rules or formulas of X minutes of massage over Y period of time to fix pain. We must also consider every massage therapist delivers massage differently, therefore it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of massage for chronic lower back pain, especially in large scale studies.
How does massage work? There are a lot of theories out there, some more credible than others including: increased blood flow, increased muscle relaxation, reduced cortisol levels and having a direct impact releasing muscles being over worked. And then there are some other less credible suggestions like removal of toxins however, I’ll leave that one for today. Even though research findings are inconsistent on the true benefits of massage, there is without doubt some benefit especially for reducing temporary pain through stimulation of what feels like knots in the muscle as well as benefits on mental health and the emotional value of touch. However, this is all temporary so is there a place for massage in chronic pain?
I write this blog as someone who used to get a weekly massage and who would feel severely increased pain and stiffness if I happened to miss a week. I became reliant on my weekly massage and looking back I know it was physiological why my pain miraculously got worse if I missed a week. It took my massage therapist going on a holiday for me to pull my finger out and actually start using some of the equipment gathering dust in my lounge room. I starting being consistent with my own self-management tools including foam rolling, stretching and using my good mate Spikey. (If you don’t know who Spikey is please look as the Tailored Health Facebook page!) I was more than capable of managing my own pain and not relying on an external source and a much more cost friendly way at that. My personal opinion is that if you feel you need a massage every week or fortnight to fix or help your pain, is this really managing your back pain?
I am all for a massage for acute injury and flare ups. I know I still get massages every now and then when I am feeling especially stiff because they do take the edge off, however I am a firm believer in learning how to self-manage. There are so many tools we can use which allow us to experience similar outcomes to massage without relying on another person and at a much lower cost. I find a combination of effective stretching, foam rolling and using my best mate Spikey the massage ball works just as well.
Next week I talk mobility and what is involved in an effective mobility routine.
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