The idea that the power of touch has the ability to heal dates back to ancient China and Egypt. Hindus refer to using touch for therapeutic purposes as Ayurveda, considered one of the world’s oldest forms of holistic medicine. Even in today’s modern world of minimally invasive spine surgery, there’s still something to be said for the potential healing power of massage therapy. If you are living with persistent or disruptive back pain, here are three ways simply enjoying a massage may provide welcome relief.
When soft tissues around the spine are irritated or inflamed, the body triggers a response to help with the healing process. Similar to what happens with chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy speeds up this process by increasing blood flow. Increased circulation also helps more beneficial nutrients get to the spine and its supporting tissues.
Results from a Chicago-based study further show a link between massage therapy and circulation improvements. A measure of brachial artery flow-mediated dilation showed that participants who had massage therapy after exercising experienced better circulation. These subjects also reported fewer instances of muscle soreness. Improvements lasted for about three days.
A common cause of back pain is muscles being tense, either from physical overexertion or in response to stress or anxiety. Some degree of muscle tension is necessary for movement. However, too much tension can inflame and irritate muscles and affect how these tissues contract. The more mobile parts of the spine like the lower back are usually affected the most by muscle tension. Massage therapy restores muscle flexibility in a way that eases tension enough to allow these tissues to function properly. When flexibility is restored, core muscle groups provide better support to the spine. Relaxed back-supporting muscles are also more likely to be flexible enough to allow for a fuller range of motion, which further reduces pressure on the spine.
The act of massaging certain muscles does more than just provide physical relief. The right type of stimulation also increases the production of hormones called endorphins. Produced by the brain and nervous system, endorphins have numerous physiological functions. One of these functions is to provide pain relief in a way similar to how certain painkillers work. An increased production of endorphins can also help people with back pain by:
• Altering the brain’s perception of pain • Boosting mood enough to minimize issues with anxiety and depression, which can also worsen back pain perception • Decreasing the need for medications that may have serious side effects when used on a long-term basis
Massage therapy isn’t recommended for all types of back pain. If your discomfort is related to a herniated or slipped disc, vertebral fracture, structural abnormality, or spinal tumor, you’re not going to experience much relief from a massage. In some instances, massage techniques may do more harm than good, which is why it’s best to get an accurate diagnosis of the source of your back pain by a Santa Monica spine surgeon before exploring options with massage therapy.
If your pain is consistent and you wish to explore other non-surgical and surgical possibilities, reach out to The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons can help you determine if you need spinal fusion or another procedure such as a Mobi-C artificial cervical disc. Santa Monica residents can call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.