Massage for Chronic Low Back Pain
Most middle aged people have experienced low back pain in their adult life. It is fair to say lower back pain does not discriminate since teens to older adults have experienced it as well. It is the number one reason behind disability worldwide. Being the leading cause of missed work days, lower back pain accounts for 264 million days lost work days yearly. Low back pain ranks third on the list of doctor’s visits and it costs at least $50 billion a year in healthcare for Americans. Of those affected with low back pain, many do get better but still have reoccurrences. From those affected, some develop chronic low back pain and it eventually becomes the reason behind their disability. Experts in low back pain project that up to 80% of the population will suffer with the condition at a certain point in their life.1 Low back pain is a major issue for people of all ages and it can be a daunting task to find relief from it.
The Opioid Epidemic and Low Back Pain
The opioid epidemic topic is highly related to low back pain since opioids are mostly prescribed for this condition. For this reason, the largest medical society in the world known as American College of Physicians (ACP) has had a change of vision when it comes to treating low back pain.2 After performing trials and studies, the ACP now recommends heat therapy, massage, acupuncture and spinal manipulation as non-drug options in their most recent guideline (2017) to treat low back pain. The next recourse in case no relief was provided by the previous therapies would be ibuprofen or muscle relaxants. Considering the high risk of addiction and overdosing, the prescription of opioids is the last recommendation on the guide to treat low back pain.
There are a few recommendations on behalf the American Chiropractic Association to help prevent low back pain:3
- Keep an active lifestyle
- Keep a healthy weight
- Perform proper warm ups before exercising
- Avoid high heels (use shoes that support you!)
- Do your best at keeping good posture (sitting or standing)
- Be careful when lifting heavy objects (lift with your legs, not with your back)
- Stop smoking. It affects your circulation!
Studies of massage and chronic low back pain
Massage could provide significant relief to people with chronic low back pain.4 A study performed by William G. Elder, PhD, Family and Community Medicine at the University of Kentucky and Niki Munk, PhD, LMT, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis showed that massage helped more than 50% of the participants with “clinically meaningful improvement.” People who participated in the study received 10 massage sessions during a 12 week period. By the end of their sessions, 54.1% reported vast improvement in their chronic back pain and then at 24 weeks 75% of those benefited from massage still maintained the benefits of the massage therapy sessions. Dr Munk emphasizes that massage should be considered as maintenance therapy and people should not expect a quick fix on the first session – especially if suffering with chronic low back pain for 10 to 15 years. It is not realistic to expect results that quick so be patient with your body and your healing process!
Massage therapy helps with pain relief and getting back to your normal life quicker than the usual medical care when it comes to chronic low back pain. 5 This statement is backed by the University of Vermont in Burlington, the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and Group Health Research Institute at the University of Washington in Seattle. They researched results of structural massage, relaxation massage and the by-the-book medical treatment for chronic low back pain. Participants received 1 hour massage therapy a week during 10 weeks and their results were reported at the end of the treatment as well as 6 months and 1 year after. At 10 weeks or right after the end of the massage sessions, people in the massage groups showed significant improvements in their symptoms and disabilities compared to the regular medical treatment group. They showed a more active lifestyle, less time in bed and less use of medication than people in the by-the-book medical treatment. The massage groups retained some of the benefits of the massage and at 1 year all the groups reported about equal improvements. But remember, the massage groups were benefited quicker, without drugs! So that means no side effects or risks from medications or injections.
Massage therapy could help people with chronic low back pain, even if they are already using strong pain medications. This study was done with a 63 year old former construction worker who suffered with scoliosis, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis. The man’s goal was to decrease the pain medication he was taking. His prescription was Percocet at 7.5mg, 4 times a day and he indicated it made him feel lethargic and disoriented. During this study, this male received 4 massages in a 20 day period. By the end of his massage therapy treatments he improved on 9 out of 10 measurements on his reports of pain and activities. The most improved were his ability to walk and the intensity of the pain he was going through. He was also able to decrease his medication (down to 1 or 2 a day max) and he used his bike (after the 3rd massage session) for the first time in years! This man’s Oswestry Disability Index Score was 60% at the beginning of the study and 38% at the end of his 4th massage session. That is a 22% reduction from severe disability category to moderate disability category. The initial plan was to complete 6 massage sessions but since the male reported zero pain after the 4th massage therapy session, it was agreed to end this study after the 4th session.
Treating Your Low Back Pain with Massage Therapy
Debilitating and limiting low back pain can be a thing of the past but truth be told, there is no therapy that can help you unless you try it. As a therapist, I’ve personally worked on numerous people with low back pain that have had great results. The most memorable clients with low back pain are people who shared how grateful they felt after their 4th or 5th massage therapy session to treat their condition because it really worked for them! Sometimes all your body needs is a Muscle Therapy Tx (treatment) so book your appointment with us or with your local therapist.
May you always have a healthy body and a heart filled with gratitude!
1,2, 3. https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics [accessed 2/14/29]
4. https://www.spineuniverse.com/treatments/alternative/massage/massage-real-deal-option-chronic-low-back-pain [accessed 2/14/19]
5. https://www.spineuniverse.com/treatments/alternative/massage/massage-real-deal-option-chronic-low-back-pain [accessed 2/14/19]