Effect of Massage on Chronic Low Back Pain
By Alex A. Kecskes
Lower back pain is one of the most common conditions in the United States and a leading reason why people see a doctor. Four out of five adults will suffer from low back pain during their lives.
Unlike lower back pain, which is often caused by muscle strains, chronic lower back pain typically persists for more than three months. The pain may be progressive, or be characterized by flare-ups. The causes of chronic pain can be hard to pinpoint, but they can usually be linked to a degenerative disc disease or a lumbar herniated disc. While some doctors prescribe muscle relaxants, many patients prefer to avoid these drugs. People feel drowsy, dizzy, confused, lightheaded or less alert when using muscle relaxants. Other side effects include blurred vision, clumsiness or unsteadiness. Thus many patients are turning to massage therapy for relief. A survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association in 2001 found that an increasing number of adults were receiving massages from a therapist--over twice as many since 1997.
Many healthcare providers accept massage therapy as an effective treatment to relieve the symptoms of lower back pain. A majority of providers advise patients to combine massage therapy with medical treatment. Massage therapy can reduce lower back pain, depression and anxiety. It may also improve a patient's range of motion and elevate their serotonin and dopamine levels, allowing for enhanced sleep.
The American Massage Therapy Association points to research showing massage therapy improves blood circulation, relaxes muscles and increases endorphin levels. Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals the body produces to help us deal with pain.
A research study conducted by the Center for Health Studies in Seattle, Washington revealed that massage therapy could have prolonged benefits for sufferers of chronic back pain. In the study, 262 adults, aged 20 to 70, were given Swedish and deep-tissue massages, trigger-point therapy (applying pressure to tender muscle tissue), neuromuscular therapy and movement education. After 10 weeks, participants noted that the benefits of massage therapy continued well beyond the last treatment and persisted up to one year later.
Usually administered by a therapist, massage therapy uses fingers and hands to manipulate the soft tissues of the body such as muscles, skin and tendons. When administered by a trained professional, massage therapy is generally safe and has no adverse side effects. Patients with unhealed fractures, deep vein thrombosis, skin infections or open wounds should avoid this type of therapy. The same holds true for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis in the area to be massaged, or severe osteoporosis.
When suffering from chronic lower back pain, first consult a primary care physician before attempting massage therapy. If the doctor advises that massage may help, find a licensed massage therapist who is nationally certified through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (www.ncbtmb.org) or the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org). Note: Medicare and most private insurance do not cover massage.