Massage, Exercise and Stretching for Lower Back Pain Relief
You likely know the feeling: lower back pain that makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning, to bend over, or to sit or walk comfortably. The pain may even keep you home from work or school for a few days. The good news is that the correct type of massage, along with exercise and stretching, can provide relief.
A new report from the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care notes that while people cannot always immediately identify the cause of their back pain, it typically improves on its own within a few weeks. To help relieve their discomfort, many people turn to massage, but not all forms of massage have been scientifically proven to be effective for lower back pain.
If the pain does not improve, “Research suggests that classic massage, Thai massage and acupressure can relieve low back pain that has lasted longer than several weeks,” according to Professor Peter Sawicki, the Institute’s executive director. A recent review by Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews also concluded that “massage might be beneficial for patients with subacute and chronic non-specific low-back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education.”
Approximately 80 percent of people will experience back pain at some point during their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. During any three-month period, 25 percent of adults experience at least one day of back pain. The majority of back pain is acute, which means it typically lasts only a few weeks. Chronic back pain is defined as a condition that lasts three months or longer.
Classic massage, also known as Swedish massage, is a technique that involves applying different strokes and moves to promote relaxation, ease muscle tension, relieve pain, and stimulate other healing benefits. Five basic moves are part of Swedish massage, including effleurage (gliding stroke), kneading, friction, stretching, and tapping.
Thai massage, according to the International Thai Therapy Association, is actually “a system of movement education (Yoga)” that is “based entirely on principles of energy balancing.” The Association notes that “actual touching, contact or soft tissue manipulation is incidental to, and not the central aim of the practice.” Thai massage is a blend of stretching and acupressure that is both therapeutic and relaxing.
Acupressure is an ancient healing practice in which the fingers and other parts of the body (e.g., knees, elbows) are used to press on certain trigger points on the body for the purpose of releasing muscular tension, promoting blood circulation, and assisting the body in healing. It is often used along with other forms of body therapy, including massage, therapeutic touch, and shiatsu.
Although massage can be helpful in relieving lower back pain, Sawicki notes that people should not rely on massage alone. Research indicates that the best treatment approach includes a combination of massage, exercise, and stretching. The Institute offers an overview of common forms of massage on its website.
Furlan AD et al. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews 2008 Oct 8; (4): CD001929
German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care
International Thai Therapy Association
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases