If the idea of a massage evokes images of luxurious spas, champagne lunches, and other indulgences, this is not always the case. You can get a massage at a fancy spa, but you might also be able to get one at your doctor’s office, and it may be one of the smartest, most cost-effective choices you can make for your back pain.

The term massage refers to any type of therapy that involves rubbing and pressing the skin and muscles with the fingers and hands. Both the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians recognize massage as an effective treatment option for patients with back pain. Although earlier studies of massage and back pain dealt with targeted deep tissue massage, an important new study published in 2011 found that both Swedish massage and targeted deep tissue massage alleviated pain and improved mobility more effectively than conventional care alone. This is good news for back patients because Swedish massage (also called relaxation massage) tends to be more accessible.

Types of Massage

There are four common types of massage with many variations. Swedish massage, or relaxation massage, is intended to relax and energize, and incorporates long gentle strokes. Deep-tissue massage is more focused on healing injured muscles. Trigger point massage, also called neuromuscular massage therapy, applies pressure to areas of tightness or muscle spasm. Sports massage borrows techniques from Swedish massage and helps athletes prevent or rehabilitate injuries. Any of these modalities may help individuals who suffer from back pain. When receiving a massage, patients frequently lie on a table draped in a sheet, but you may also receive a massage while sitting in a chair.

Benefits of Massage

The American Massage Therapy Association explains that massage works by increasing blood circulation, which helps muscles to recover more quickly. It relaxes muscles so that they are able to move more freely and stimulates the release of endorphins, the natural feel-good chemicals in your body that can help you manage chronic pain. Experts note that we do not yet fully understand how massage works to reduce pain, but even the personal attention and touch offered by a masseuse can be powerfully therapeutic.

In addition to helping alleviate back pain and other chronic pain, researchers have found that massage relieves stress, anxiety, and depression. It relieves stiffness, aids in managing blood pressure, improves immunity, benefits cancer patients, and helps athletes recover from sports injuries. It can also improve the growth of preterm infants.

Doctors caution that massage is not best for all back patients, and you should discuss your plans to visit a massage therapist with your doctor, particularly if you have a specifically diagnosed back condition. Massage works best when it is combined with exercise. On its own, massage can relieve pain, but it cannot cure the underlying structural problems that may be causing your pain the way that exercise and stretching can. One of the benefits of massage is that it can ease back pain long enough that patients can begin to exercise.

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