By Shauna Moore
Who over the age of 30 (or even under 30!) can say that they’ve never experienced or known someone with frequent back pain, either from an injury or some ongoing cause they may or may not be able to pinpoint the cause of? The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration state that back injuries account for almost 20 percent of all the injuries that are reported in the workplace every year. That number affects over one million people, and that is just at work. This statistic doesn’t account for the sheer number of individuals who suffer from back related injuries from incidents at home or due to sports or other leisure activities. Today we’re going to look at some of the most common back injuries and discuss how and what type of massage can help alleviate pain associated with these.
The first most common injuries that occur in the workplace that result in back pain, particularly low or mid-back pain, are strains and sprains. Back strains (damage caused to muscles, ligaments, or tendons) are caused by overstretching or overuse. Workers who have a job that requires a lot of lifting or vigorous back movements are often the ones most affected by this type of injury. Strains also happen from jobs where workers are exposed to whole body vibration, awkward postures, and heavy physical labor. The most common problem is a strained or pulled muscle. Once these tissues are damaged once, they often are weakened and can easily be re-injured.
The next most common injuries are bulging and herniated discs. A bulging disc happens when the pad that cushions the gap between the vertebrae slips out of place and has the potential to rupture (become herniated) on one side. The vertebral discs can be displaced anywhere along the spine, but they seem to happen more often in the low back as a result of degeneration due to active use over time. When a disc becomes herniated, it may allow for the center (which is a similar consistency to jelly) to leak out, which irritates nearby nerves. Either level of this condition puts pressure on the spinal cord. It will mostly cause pain in the form of muscle spasms and cramps, but may also create numbness in the neck, shoulders, or any of the appendages. It can also be a cause of sciatica.
But there is good news for those who suffer from back pain due to either one of these injuries! In the case of either of these, massage can be a beneficial tool for alleviating pain and eventually helping to heal the affected area.
In the case of bulging or herniated discs, massage can contribute to decrease the pain and muscle spasms, increase the range of motion, and potentially prevent ongoing degeneration. If the injury is still in the acute phase, massage is not recommended, and indeed is contraindicated until any inflammation has gone down and pain has decreased. If there is a small amount of inflammation in the area (indicated by redness, swelling, or heat), cryotherapy may be used as a means to reduce it before administering the massage treatment. An aluminum drink can of some sort that is cold is a great tool to use for this! It may take ten minutes or more for the inflammation to go down, but as soon as it is finished, methods such as range of motion stretches and soft tissue release techniques may be effective. Because most back injuries occur between the third and fourth layers of muscle, the deeper pressure is advised to make sure that the therapist is reaching down to the injury site. Movements in a direction away from the spine are the way to go because pulling the erector muscles away from the spine helps the alleviate the pressure the muscles may be placing on the spine. If you massage toward the spinal column, you will be compressing the spine, even more, causing the client more pain. The client should notice a difference after a concise time. After you’ve been working for awhile, make sure to revisit the cold therapy because after working deeply for a time, you will be irritating the area and the inflammation will come creeping back in. Continue with the decompression strokes for a time. After the muscles have been loosened up and have softened some, you will begin to be able to palpate and feel exactly where the problem areas are specifically and can work on them from there.
When it comes to lower back strains (sometimes also called muscle pulls), the same principle applies to the inflammation and acute pain. Injuries should never be massaged when they are in the acute stages of pain. As soon as the injury has reached the point where it is no longer considered acute, massage is indicated and is very beneficial in helping to manage future pain and to help heal the area. A muscle strain can and does, happen to anyone. They can occur seemingly randomly in the middle of normal activities when there is an immediate use of a particular muscle. Severe muscle strains can result in muscle tears. Research has shown that massage therapy may have several health benefits in aiding recovery from muscle soreness and muscle strains. Massage increases blood flow and circulation to the area of injury, which brings in needed nutrients to help the muscle repair itself. With the increase in blood flow, massage also contributes to flush out any inflammation in the area and helps the muscles to relax, which can work out any spasms or irritation and improve range of motion. With muscle strains, similar techniques to those used with the herniated discs can be helpful. Also, use of Trigger Point Therapy can be beneficial in helping to reduce muscle spasms and localized pain. After some of the pain has been reduced with massage, stretching and light exercises can be used to keep and increase the range of motion of the back of muscles and also to rebuild strength in the area so that injury does not reoccur.
There are so many different ways that we can injure ourselves, and people seem to keep coming up with new ways every day. The two injuries I touched on are just some of the most common, but by no means are the only ways. Luckily we have massage as a fantastic alternative to helping out with reducing pain instead of relying on painkillers and physical therapy alone to get by. If you’re living with back pain, contact your favorite massage therapist today and see how they can help you out! You may be surprised with how easy it possibly is to be living a pain-free or less painful life.