Massage Therapy for Back Pain

Massage Therapy for Back Pain

Massage therapy can help your back pain. However, it can also exacerbate it. I worked as a massage therapist for over ten years and have had hundreds of massages myself. In this article, I will discuss massage therapy and how it can help and increase one’s back pain. The common theme with back pain and recovery is that all back injuries are unique, have unique injury mechanisms, and must be treated individually. What makes one feel better could hurt another one with seemingly ‘the same’ injury, so this is why an assessment is necessary. Also, different soft tissue treatment modalities can be helpful or hurtful at other times, depending on how acute your injury might be.

How massage therapy can help

Depending on the injury, massage therapy can be beneficial for back pain, primarily if the back pain is located and not running down the leg. In addition, some back pain sufferers have extreme “guarding” of their muscles from the trauma of the vertebrae and discs and greatly benefit from some soft tissue therapy. Addressing the tension in the guarding muscles and postural and movement corrections can prove helpful. But, they all must work cohesively; if you aren’t doing the right things outside the gym/treatment room, a massage here and there isn’t likely to fix you. During my time as an LMT, many clients came to me with this issue, and I could only make them feel better for a short time, and then their pain returned.

How massage can increase your back pain

In contrast to the client who has localized back pain, those who have leg pain/glute pain (not just back pain) might find that massage temporarily has made them feel better, only to feel more ‘wound up and in pain. Especially if the client lacks stability, the massage loosens them up even more, causing more pain. Further, some massage therapists will brutalize their clients, thinking that digging deep into ‘trigger spots’ will fix their client’s nerve pain and herniated discs. Or they are even smashing the client into the table, expecting the muscles and affected area to submit. While this, at times, can address symptoms, it can also wind up one’s pain for days, weeks even months. Unfortunately, most back pain is not caused by ONLY tight muscles; tight muscles are often due to a disc bulge or other than tense muscles.

Back pain and massage therapy: my approach

What I like to do for my recovery, even though my back doesn’t bother me, is to get a massage weekly. I have the areas I want to address for tension and tightness: my neck, head, quads, hips, and shoulders. Finding ways to de-stress can be helpful for anyone, especially those who suffer from back pain. Those too acute to get work done on their back could consider getting their face, and head with light shoulders massaged to relax them. Sometimes the fascia (sheets of connective tissue which envelopes body structures and organs) must be addressed. Addressing fascia can be done with very non-invasive approaches to start, working up to more aggressive ones, which I don’t suggest right away. Another way I’ve found ways to loosen up fascia is by marinating impacted areas in my PRS CBD balm to help calm and relax the area. Again, not THE solution, but potentially part of the solution.

Massage Therapy wrap-up

I understand massage to be very helpful to many people who deal with back pain. But remember, there is more to fixing your back than getting passive treatment once a month. Or, if you’re lucky -weekly. Finding ways to de-stress and not focus on your back injury can be helpful. Even if you get a light or Swedish massage, finding some distraction and relaxation may contribute to the healing process. The best case scenario is reading Back Mechanic, finding out your pain triggers and avoiding them, and then trying soft tissue therapy after the cause(s) of pain are removed and working synergistically.

For those struggling with back pain, there is hope for you. Book a virtual consult with Brian HERE with someone who’s been there. 

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Brian Carroll

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Brian is a retired world-class powerlifter with over two decades of world-class powerlifting. From 1999 to 2020, Brian Carroll was a competitive powerlifter, one of the most accomplished lifters in the sport's history. Brian started off competing in bench press competitions 'raw,' then, shortly into the journey, he gravitated toward equipped lifting as there were no "raw" categories then. You only had to choose from single-ply (USPF) and Multi-ply (APF/WPC). Brian went on to total 2730 at 275 and 2651 at 242 with more than ten times his body weight in three different classes (220, 242, 275), and both bench pressed and deadlifted over 800 pounds in two other weight classes. He's totaled 2600 over 20 times in 2 different weight classes in his career. With 60 squats of 1000lbs or more officially, this is the most in powerlifting history, regardless of weight class or federation, by anyone not named David Hoff. Brian realized many ups and downs during his 20+ years competing. After ten years of high-level powerlifting competition and an all-time World Record squat at 220 with 1030, in 2009, Brian was competing for a Police academy scholarship. On a hot and humid July morning, Brian, hurdling over a barricade at 275lbs, landed on, fell, and hurt his back. After years of back pain and failed therapy, Brian met with world-renowned back specialist Prof McGill in 2013, which changed his trajectory more than he could have imagined. In 2017, Brian Carroll and Prof McGill authored the best-selling book about Brian's triumphant comeback to powerlifting in Gift of Injury. Most recently (10.3.20) -Brian set the highest squat of all time (regardless of weight class) with 1306 lbs – being the first man to break the 1300lb squat barrier at a bodyweight of 303 lbs.
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