Back pain is one of the top reasons that people begin to lose mobility in middle age. Pain can keep people from engaging in physical activity, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight and keep up their strength and stamina, thereby contributing to the cycle of low back pain. Treating and managing back pain that results from injuries or health problems is crucial for staying on the path of a healthy and active life. Here are two considerations apart from the usual ones that may help alleviate back pain.
Low back pain sufferers know that a flare up can take a month or longer to eventually subside. But one sometimes overlooked treatment option is massage, which can speed up the healing process significantly.
Harvard Men’s Health Watch reports that the best studies to date have found that massage brought more relief than physical therapy or traditional home remedies like rest, ice, heat, and OTC pain relievers. It also outperforms acupuncture. Research suggests that this therapy is pretty safe, as well, and so definitely worth a try.
What works? Because of the limited size of studies, it’s not easy to say what type of massage is best for low back pain, or what is the optimal “dose” or frequency of treatment.
There are several varieties of massage, which is also sometimes known as “touch therapy.” Swedish massage involves long, gliding strokes and kneading of the major muscle groups, as well as friction, gentle rhythmic slapping, and vibration. Among the many other techniques out there are deep-tissue, pressure-point, Thai, and neuromuscular massage.
There’s more to massage or “body work” than kneading and squeezing tight muscles. Some approaches sprang from traditional medicine, while others were developed more recently. Here are some common options.
Acupressure (shiatsu). Deep finger pressure applied along “energy channels” in the body called meridians.
Cranial-sacral therapy. Claims to use light touch to adjust the balance and flow of cerebrospinal fluid.
Deep-tissue massage. Aggressive massage to relieve severe tension in the muscle and the connective tissues.
Neuromuscular therapy. Massage to relieve acute or chronic pain.
Myofascial release. Massage intended to release tension in the connective tissue surrounding the muscles.
Sports massage. Massage to help athletes prepare for and recover from sports activities.
Swedish massage. Long strokes with gentle or firm pressure as well as kneading.
A few concerns. Massage therapists vary considerably in their level of training and experience. It’s best to try and find a local medical center that has an alternative (or “integrative”) medicine program. These typically offer massage by qualified practitioners. Also check if the massage practitioner is licensed to practice and certified by a national organization such as the American Massage Therapy Association www.amtamassage.org.
Another downside to massage therapy is that insurance coverage varies. Many people end up paying the full cost.
Get the results you want. If you have any concern that massage might be harmful to your back condition, check with your doctor. Also ask the massage therapist (or a physical therapist) for advice about ways that you sit, walk, or work that might be contributing to your pain. And finally, talk to people you know to get a recommendation. Good practitioners get good results and generate positive referrals.
Not everyone with low back pain thinks carefully about the role their mattress may be playing in their difficulties. Considering that most people spend roughly a third of their lives lying in bed, your choice of mattress can make the difference in whether you can sleep at night and function the next day. If you are sleeping on a very old, lumpy mattress, it could be time to do your back a favor and look into getting a new one. But what type of mattress is best for low back pain sufferers?
In the past, doctors often recommended very firm mattresses. But one study based on a waiting room survey of 268 people with low back pain found that those who slept on orthopedic (very hard) mattresses had the poorest sleep quality. There was no difference in sleep quality between those who used medium-firm and firm mattresses.
Soft mattresses, on the other hand, can also be problematic. While a soft mattress that conforms to your body’s natural curves may help the joints align favorably, you might also sink in so deeply that your joints twist and become painful during the night.
Test outside the store. You can certainly go to a mattress showroom and test a variety of models. But keep in mind that what feels comfortable for a few minutes in a store might not translate into a good night’s sleep.
If you want to find out whether a firmer mattress would feel better than the one you’re currently using, try putting a plywood board under your mattress to dampen the movement from the bedsprings, or try placing your mattress on the floor.
Another reliable test is to simply observe how you feel after sleeping on different types of mattresses while away from home. This includes hotels, a friend’s house or a stay with a relative. If you find a mattress you fall in love with, make inquiries. Some hotels even make available for sale their own brand of new mattresses, having realized there is revenue to be made from their popularity.
In addition to pain medications, gentle stretching, heat, ice, traditional physical therapy and of course rest, these considerations can make a difference in both your recovery from and future prevention of this common pain that affects over a third of all Americans.