Here's The Rub - Regular Massages Can Bring You Back Pain Relief

Find out why getting a massage can be more than just a pleasant and relaxing experience for people with chronic lower back pain. 

I'm sure most of us have had a massage at some point in our lives. 

Whether it was on holiday, on a visit to the physio, as a member of a sports team, as a treat to yourself, or......... 

Well let's not cover all the bases! 

But suffice to say, for most people having a massage is a pleasant experience that leaves you feeling great afterwards. 

​However for people with chronic lower back pain massage can be more than just a pleasant experience. 

​As it can significantly help to reduce muscle tension, pain, anxiety and negative emotions.

So read on and I'll explain the many benefits that having a massage will bring to you.

And specifically how it will help your back pain.

I'll also explain the different types of massage available and weigh up the benefits of each.

And finally I'll go over some ways you can massage yourself if regular massages from a professional are not going to be possible for you.

What Are The Benefits Of Massage​ Therapy?

​So what can you expect to gain by going for a massage?

You'll Feel More Relaxed

This one might seem obvious but it's a good place to start.

One study for the treatment of elderly patients found that a gentle hand massage led to significant improvements in both physical and mental relaxation.

And relaxing is a great way of reducing pain so this is all good.​

You'll Experience Less Pain

Releasing tight muscle knots and easing muscle tension through massage can lower pain levels in people with chronic lower back pain.

These effects have been shown to be long-lasting too in some cases for between 6 months and a year after the treatment has finished.

You'll Be Less Stressed

Massage therapy has been shown to lead to lower stress levels along with reduced blood pressure and heart-rate.

In fact one workplace study found that even as little as 15 minutes of massage therapy in the workplace led to a significant reduction in blood pressure in the workers afterwards.

You'll Sleep Better

The relaxing effects of getting a massage have been found to improve a person's sleep quality. ​

In one study comparing a group receiving massage therapy to a group receiving relaxation therapy, the massage group reported far fewer sleep disturbances afterwards.

And this is great news as getting a good night's sleep is crucial for those of us with chronic back pain.

You'll Improve Physically Too

Massage has been found to increase the range of motion in athletes as well as people with chronic pain.

And in another study massage therapy was found to lead to greater physical improvements in people with lower back pain than exercise therapy did.

So the physical benefits of massage are real.​

You'll Improve Your Balance & Stability As You Get Older

These physical benefits extend as you age too.

As massage has been found to help elderly patients improve their balance and posture.

And the need to improve posture is not limited to the elderly either.

As spending too much time sitting down can lead to lower back pain and posture problems.

Massage can help to iron out the muscle imbalances and weaknesses that prolonged sitting causes.

You'll Be Less Likely To Suffer From Headaches

Massage therapy has been shown to lower the amount of tension headaches that people get.

You'll Be Less Prone To Depression

Depression has been shown to be a big problem for people with chronic pain and the more depressed people feel the higher their levels of pain get.

However massage therapy has been shown to be effective at reducing depression among adults both with and without back pain.

You'll Be Less Anxious

Studies of people with lower back pain and high anxiety levels found that both their anxiety and pain was significantly lowered after a course of shiatsu massage.

So as you can see you get some great benefits from regular massages.​

And there are many other claimed benefits such as a boosted immune system, increased blood circulation, detoxification and a release of endorphins amongst others.

However these are still lacking in credible scientific evidence so I'll let you make up your own mind on them.

But overall massage can be a great help to those of us with chronic lower back pain.​

Which Is The Best Type Of Massage​ Therapy To Reduce Back Pain?

There are a few different styles of massage therapy and each has it's own benefits.

And the one that suits you best may be down to what works for your specific back pain or may just be down to personal preference. 

So here is a quick overview so you can make a decision.

Swedish Massage

​This is the most traditional and common form of massage.

​The goal of a Swedish massage is to relax the whole body.

massage for back pain

This is done by the use of 5 different strokes: long gliding strokes, kneading, light rhythmic tapping, friction (rubbing with deep circular movements), and vibration (shaking).

Massage oil is also used to help with the movements and these strokes are usually combined with light movement of the joints.

While the goal of Swedish massage is of total muscle relaxation​, the strokes can either be light or vigorous depending on what your therapist thinks you need.

​The benefits of this type of massage are:

  • It increases the level of oxygen in the blood and improves circulation.
  • It increases muscle flexibility by easing muscle tension, which also energises the body.
  • It reduces joint stiffness.

​Deep-Tissue Massage

​While Swedish massage is all about muscle relaxation, deep-tissue massage involves applying more pressure and works on the muscle tendons and surrounding tissues as well as the muscles themselves.

​This form of massage uses similar strokes to Swedish massage but they are applied more slowly and with more pressure.

So be prepared for elbows, knuckles and ​thumbs being pushed hard down into your muscles to release deep knots.

massage for back pain

This form of massage may not be for everyone as it can be uncomfortable and painful at times and can leave you feeling sore and tender for a day or two afterwards.​

However deep-tissue massage is a popular form of massage for people with chronic muscle tension and athletes recovering from​ injuries.

​So what are the benefits?

  • It's been found to be good for lowering chronic pain and increasing physical mobility.
  • It's good for rectifying posture problems.​
  • ​It's good for relieving osteoarthritis pain.

So while this kind of massage is more painful and goes deeper than a Swedish massage it could be a good option if the Swedish massage isn't working to relieve your back pain.​

Trigger-Point Therapy

​Trigger-point therapy works along similar lines to deep-tissue massage.

However rather than targeting the whole body, trigger-point therapy ​focuses on specific areas

​This is because we have pressure points running through our muscles in various parts of the body.

And when these are stressed (triggered) they can lead to muscle knots and pain in the surrounding areas.

However they can also lead to muscle pain in completely different areas of the body and this can make the cause of your pain hard to detect.​

So by working to release tension in the trigger-points your therapist will be aiming to relieve muscle tension in the surrounding areas and in turn lowering your pain levels.

This is done through applying cycles of pressure and release to the specific trigger-points with the aim of deactivating them while you concentrate on trying to remain relaxed through deep-breathing.

Which means for this therapy much more communication is needed.

With the therapist needing guidance on whether they are hitting the right spot and how intense the pain at that particular trigger-point is.

So like deep-tissue massage this can also be a painful process at times.

​However the benefits are:

  • It aims to get to the root cause of your problem.
  • It is good for relieving pain and tension.
  • It can also be good for relieving headaches.

Shiatsu Massage​

​Shiatsu massage originated from Japan and uses finger pressure to work on various acupressure points around the head and body.

The idea is that these acupressure points are responsible for the flow of energy​ around your body.

And manually manipulating them will remove any blockages which will allow your energy to flow freely.

​This is usually done fully clothed and the massage can be quite an intense one.

But by working deep into the muscles it has been shown to be great for relieving stress and providing deep relaxation afterwards.

​Other benefits include:

  • It increases circulation.
  • It has been shown to be good for pain relief.
  • It aims to provide inner balance by unblocking energy channels.
  • It also claims to boost your immune system too.

Thai Massage​

Thai massage consists of a full body massage usually starting from the feet and ending at the head.

And like Shiatsu massage this ​is done fully clothed and without oils.

It involves the compression and stretching of your joints and muscles to increase your range of motion and flexibility.

But be warned you will be moved around like a rag doll during a Thai​ massage!

And the therapist will use their own body and body weight to move you deeper into various positions.

So expect to be walked on, knelt on, pulled, twisted, poked, prodded, clicked and cracked!

massage for back pain

But as bad as that may sound the result is an intensely pleasurable and relaxing massage.​

And Thai massage is referred to as 'lazy yoga' by some as you are stretched and manipulated without the need for any effort on your part.

​This opens energy lines and remove blockages by releasing your acupressure points similar to Shiatsu massage techniques.

And this can bring the following benefits:

  • ​It's good for management of chronic pain as it provides temporary pain relief.
  • It helps to rid you of fatigue by unblocking energy channels.
  • It provides you with a general sense of relaxation and well-being.

And you'll feel great after a Thai massage too!

Self-Massage Techniques

I'm sure after reading through the previous sections getting a massage will seem like a great idea.

And it is.

But there is one massive downside to getting a regular massage.


Because professional massages are not cheap.

And if you want a weekly one then the costs can be too much for most people to be able to afford or justify.

However there are ways you can learn to massage yourself that can still give you some of the benefits of massage.

And at a fraction of the cost.​

​Do It Yourself!

While it's obviously not possible to give yourself a full body massage (unless you're Inspector Gadget!) you can still massage certain points in your back that can give you some relief.

​This follows on from trigger-point therapy.

There are four main trigger-points in your back that are likely to cause​ or contribute to your lower back pain.

By locating these yourself you can apply pressure to them in short bursts ​(10-30 seconds) a few times per day.

And even this small amount of pressure and massage can work to release them and lower your muscle tension and pain.

Now rather than trying to explain this procedure myself I've found great articles on this from a trigger-point pain expert called Paul Ingraham.

The first one explains how to locate these four trigger-points in your own back and you can find it here.

And by clicking on each of the four one by one you'll get taken to further articles which will tell you what you need to do once you've found these trigger points to give yourself a self-massage.

I've been following Paul's advice myself these past few months and I've really felt an instant release of tension and relaxation after self-massaging my trigger-points.

Give it a go yourself!​

Self-Massage Tools

There are always going to be certain areas that you just can't reach yourself.

Especially in your lower back area.

And even if you can reach them it's likely that you won't be able to apply enough pressure to be able to release your muscle knots.

But don't despair as there are some great self-massage tools on the market that can help.

There include TENS machines, massage canes, foam rollers, massage balls and acupressure mats.

These all have benefits and are helpful in working out your trigger points and relieving muscle pain.​

The Tennis Ball Technique​

​However there is also a good free option you can try called the tennis ball technique.

massage for back pain

This has been widely regarded as a useful form of self-massage treatment and has been used by professional dancers and athletes to keep their overworked muscles from tensing and cramping.

​It works on the same principle as trigger-point therapy.

By applying pressure to a trigger point (by resting your body weight on the tennis ball) you can release the tension which will soften tight muscles and help to increase circulation​.

To do this lie down and trap the tennis ball between your back and the floor and move it around until you find the point where your muscle pain is.

Now rest your​ body weight on the ball, breathe deeply and relax.

You should feel ​some pain but it should be 'good' pain', satisfying rather than uncomfortable.

And after a minute or so you should feel the muscle knot begin to release.​

The tennis ball technique is great for those of us with lower back pain as it's easy​ to get the right pressure by resting our body weight on the ball.

And it's cheap too!​

​Once again Paul Ingraham has written a more detailed article on how to do this which you can read here.

The Bath Technique​

This is similar to the tennis ball technique but done in a hot bath instead.

And it is a good option if the tennis ball feels too hard on your back.

Plus you get the added benefit of the heat of the bath which will help to relax your muscles at the same time.

So get into the bath, place a ball under your back in the right spot, then relax down onto it.

Obviously a tennis ball isn't going to be ideal to use in the water.

So a better option to go for would be a rubber ball or a dogs toy ball.

Something like this will work​.

Get Your Partner To Do It For You

​While having a professional masseuse is obviously the best option, even they will take time to work out exactly what works for you and what you need to help your pain.

So it usually takes a few sessions before they really begin to hit the right spots.

And when you're paying top whack for your massages this can really eat into your budget.

So another option would be to train your partner up to give you the right kind of massage instead.

massage for back pain

There are tons of 'How to' videos on YouTube that walk you through the massage process and how to apply the techniques involved.

And added to this you can guide your partner to really focus on the areas that need releasing and let them know if they are doing it right.

So you get a totally customised massage each time.​

And you can always return the favour afterwards so you both get the benefits of a nice, relaxing massage.

So not only is this a cost effective way of getting a regular massage it can also bring you closer together in your relationship too.

A win-win!​

Rounding Up

As you can see getting a massage is far more than just a pleasant and relaxing experience.

As it also provides many health benefits and can be a big help in managing chronic lower back pain.

So getting a regular massage can help to:

  • Make you feel more relaxed.
  • Reduce your pain levels.
  • Make you less stressed.
  • Give you a better night's sleep.
  • Improve your physical mobility, stability and balance.
  • Make you less prone to headaches.
  • Make you less prone to depression.
  • Make you less anxious.

So a good idea all round!

Now there are various types of massage you can go for ranging from a relaxing Swedish massage, a more intense Deep-tissue or Trigger-point massage, or a more holistic massage such as Shiatsu or Thai.

However the cost of getting a professional massage on a regular basis can be out of reach for most people.

Therefore it's good to look at self-massage techniques so you can still gain the benefits at a fraction of the cost.

Another option would be to train your partner to give you a the perfect massage for your back pain.

However whatever option you decide to try I hope you can begin to feel some of the benefits of massage for yourself too.

Let me know how you get on in the comments below.

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I'm a Painter and Decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help my fellow construction workers to fight back against persistent back pain like I have.

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