Back pain is one of the most frequent complaints presented by my clients who seek me out for massage therapy. While I appreciate the steady business it produces for my practice, there are several tips I'd like to share that will allow you to visit me (or your chosen massage therapist) more often simply because I'm a cool-rad-awesome person that helps you relax and maintain a pain-free body, rather than only visiting me because you are in excruciating pain. Injury, postural imbalances, and every day activities (from sitting too long to standing too much) can all play a role in the aches and pains felt in our upper, mid, and lower backs. You have undoubtedly felt some sort of back pain at least once in your life; but, more than likely, it is something you've experienced more than several times which caused at least the audible "ow!" as you attempted to move throughout the day. First things first: what caused your pain?
Causes of back pain vary, but fall under a few broad categories: injury, posture, and lifestyle. Injury to the back due to any sort of structural abnormality, accident, or strain is typically isolated to one area. Treatment and rehabilitation would depend upon the type, degree, and location of the abnormality or injury. Postural imbalances are a result of long term postural holding patterns which impinge, strain, and alter the muscular and/or fascial systems. As a result of postural imbalances, some muscles are required to work harder to compensate for muscles that are not able to perform their regular duties due to the imbalance. For example, a pelvis that tilts forward (pelvic anterior tilt) would shorten and tighten the lower back muscles (causing your bum or glutes to protrude further out; also referred to as lordosis), while lengthening and straining your strongest hip or pelvis muscle; the psoas. This postural imbalance tends to cause low back and pelvic pain. Everyday life and our lifestyles are often the biggest trigger for back pain. From sitting or standing for extended periods of time every day, our backs often feel the strain of this more than anywhere else in our body. Mental and emotional stress, chasing kids who love to drip sticky things on every conceivable surface, throwing the ball with Fluffy who just never ever wants the game to end, sitting at the computer for work 25 hours a day / 8 days a week all have an impact on the work our back is or is not doing. Identifying what is causing your back pain is the first step; the second and more important step is treating it.
How do you help treat that that horrible back pain? First and foremost: water, water, water! "But, why are we always told to drink more water!?", you silently wonder yet never ask. While I realize drinking more water means there will be more trips to the bathroom (pro tip: bathrooms can be great hiding places throughout the day when you need a break; so, think of the extra bathroom time as a way for you to escape in regular intervals), but hydration is also super duper important for our muscular and fascial systems, not to mention our organs and lymph system (the lymph system loves help in ridding our bodies of all the toxins it produces and which we introduce to it) and our skin. You've probably heard the popular and oft touted rumor that 350% of your body is made up of water, but you don't really have an ocean with sharks, whales, or those weird one-eyed-bottom-dweller fish inside of your body. However, many of your cells and systems DO have an amazing thing called 'ground substance' (a water like substance). For example, our fascial system is made almost entirely out of ECM, or exracelluar matrix, which is almost all ground substance. When our fascia gets dry, it becomes brittle; when it's brittle, it restricts the muscles, organs, tissues, nerves, and all of our innards which it's holding together and sliding around on. It's like driving a car without oil; which, as my father has told me my entire life, is really-really-really bad. (Get regular oil changes, folks, to help fathers everywhere rest easy! And drink water to satisfy your massage therapists, doctors, personal trainers, physical therapists, fascia, muscles, organs, tongues, and your moms!)
While I really hate mentioning this one because it always elicits groans, the second most important thing that recent studies have shown yield lasting results in reducing, eliminating and/or preventing back pain is ... (wait for it) ... exercise! I know, I know: your back hurts, why in the world would you exercise!? And how, if you have back pain? It's not an easy solution: finding the time, energy, motivation, and pushing through the pain are all concerns [excuses] many of us share. However, every muscle in our body, every cell, every beautiful continuous strand of fascia benefits from even simple exercise regardless of what type of it is. Plus, exercise not only tones our bodies, grows our muscles, and helps with back pain; but, it strengthens our heart, helps reduce stress, improves our brain function, and elevates our self confidence. Whether you walk, run, lift, dance, or play dodge ball, the most important thing is that you do some sort of activity. Just do it! Nike's aren't required; New Balance or Adidas or bare feet (if it's safe) will do. And then you stretch.
But, do you even stretch, bro? You aren't alone if you never stretch or only stretch when the pain reminds you that you haven't stretched in 7 years. But, don't let that stop you from starting a daily stretch routine now. Our muscles crave, want, and need to be stretched and released every day. Think of all the things these super heroes are doing for you! Opening the fridge, typing on the computer, sitting you up, walking you around, jumping you up and down when your team gets the draft pick you wanted (or cause those super cute shoes were on sale). Muscles are like incredibly needy significant others who respond with love and good feelings when you give them the attention and quality time they desperately desire. What kind of stretching?
Yoga is a great method for stretching, toning, and relaxing our minds and bodies. Downward dog may look funny, but your body will love you for it. If yoga pants aren't your thing (they are soooo comfortable, though), some simple back stretches can be easily searched for and found online. They take only minutes a day when preformed and don't require ridiculously expensive athletic pants or soft voices. Yell when you stretch if it helps! Even bending forward slowly to touch your toes a few times throughout the day will help. The most important thing is that you do some sort of stretch for your back (and body) every day -- several times a day, if possible.
Finally *drum roll, please*, schedule an appointment with me! Massage therapy is, like, better than unicorns who live on rainbows and speak in French. After we identify exactly what is causing your pain, we'll discuss some treatment options together that could include: traditional massage, deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, injury massage, and/or myofascial release (see 'Treatments Used' for more details about the exact methodologies). Isolating and treating the muscles and fascia that are directly involved to provide the relief and results needed to live with less back pain will almost feel like magic. But, it's not. Unicorns are magic: I'm a massage therapist.
New Clients: Your first session is half off at $34.50!
Returning Clients: After your 4th full price session, the 5th is free!
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Holly Holm, LMT
Sync Myofascial & Massage Healing Therapies