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How Massage Can Help Your Lower Back Pain

by Patty Weasler, RN August 13, 2019 0 Comments

Woman massaging her lower back

Massage for lower back pain is an easy and effective way to alleviate symptoms and promote full-body relaxation. Massage therapy is especially beneficial for back pain resulting from tense or strained muscles. Learn more about the benefits of back massage and discover specific tips and techniques for effective pain relief.

What is the Best Type of Massage for Lower Back Pain?

With so many kinds of massage therapy, choosing the best one for lower back pain can be confusing. However, the type you choose may not be all that important — research suggests that both relaxing massage techniques and deep tissue therapy may be equally effective for symptom relief. Instead, it may be better to find a good massage therapist that will tailor a treatment to your preferences.

Popular types of massage include:

  • Deep Tissue Massage

    This form of massage involves pressing or kneading deep into the muscles. It focuses on releasing muscle knots and areas of stubborn tension. Deep tissue massage can be uncomfortable — both during the massage and for a few days afterward — but you should always let your therapist know when things go beyond discomfort.

  • Swedish Massage

    Swedish massage aims to create deep relaxation throughout the body. It involves long, sweeping strokes along the muscles; rolling and kneading techniques; light, rhythmic tapping; and deep pressure for muscle knots or areas of extreme tension.

  • Trigger Point Massage

    Therapists who practice trigger point massage focus on finding and releasing trigger points. They will repeatedly place firm pressure on the point until it releases. Unlike Swedish massage, it does not work the whole body, it simply focuses on specific problem areas.

  • Acupressure

    Acupressure is an ancient Chinese treatment that involves applying pressure to specific areas of the body to reduce pain, treat illness, and encourage relaxation. It is like acupuncture but without needles. Research suggests that using acupressure together with physical therapy may increase function and decrease symptoms and disability in people with chronic low back pain.

How Massage Helps Back Pain

Massage is beneficial for both acute and chronic back pain. It works by:

  • Boosting Blood Flow to the Affected Tissues

    Blood brings fresh oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and other components of the back, which nourishes these tissues and encourages healing. Improved circulation also ensures the efficient removal of waste products from damaged tissue.

  • Reducing Muscular Tension

    Tense and tight muscles can cause significant pain and discomfort. Luckily, massage therapy targets the soft tissues of the back in order to relax areas of tension and tightness.

    Constant contraction and muscle tension can lead to the development of myofascial pain syndrome. In this chronic pain condition, sensitive points in the muscles — called trigger points or muscle knots — lead to pain in the back and surrounding areas.

  • Increasing the Levels of Endorphins in the Body

    Endorphins are chemicals that the body releases in response to pain or stress. They bring about pain relief and increase levels of relaxation and happiness.

    Massage causes the body to release endorphins along with other ‘feel-good’ chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters increase feelings of joy, motivation, and positive emotions.

    Other ways to boost your levels of endorphins include regular exercise, yoga and meditation, and helping others.

How to Self Massage for Lower Back Pain — Home Techniques

While professional massage is a great way to treat lower back pain, not everyone can access a massage therapist. Home massage, whether performed on yourself or a loved one, is another option that can work well in the treatment of acute or chronic pain.

Here are some techniques to get you started:

  • How to Give a Deep Tissue Lower Back Massage

    When it comes to deep tissue massage, practice makes perfect. Firstly, you will want to use lotion on the skin. The, you can apply firm, deep strokes to the lower back and sides. This video also highlights specific areas of muscle to target to break up tension and to address lower back pain. Finally, remember to relax and breathe deeply throughout.

  • Massage for Sciatica

    Massage for sciatica involves focusing on the sciatic nerve, around the lower spine, which can cause pain that may radiate right down to the foot. Watch this video to learn how and where to apply pressure to relieve sciatic pain.

  • Acupressure Points for Lower Back Pain

    Pressing on specific points in the body may help to reduce low back pain. These points include Bladder 23 and Bladder 28, plus a point in the gluteal fold. Check out the video to discover exactly how to access these pressure points. An acupressure mat can help you find similar relief at home.

  • Using a Foam Roller for Lower Back Pain

    For an easy way to give yourself a lower back massage, use a foam roller:

    1. Sit down on a mat and place the roller behind your lower back.
    2. Lean back over the roller and apply pressure to one side of your lower back. Roll back and forth, focusing on areas of tension and pain.
    3. Repeat on the other side.
    4. Then, roll your glutes and hips as tightness in these regions contributes to back pain.

    Click on the video link to see a demonstration of this process or

    • Using a Massage Ball for Lower Back Pain

      A peanut massage ball is ideal for treating trigger points and areas of tension in the lower back. To use one:

      1. Sit down on a mat with the peanut ball behind you. Lie back over the ball, but keep your knees bent. The ball should be positioned just above your lower back.
      2. Keeping your arms straight, raise them until your fingers are pointing at the ceiling.
      3. Slowly lower your right arm toward the ground behind your head. Hold for 2-5 seconds then return to the starting position.
      4. Repeat on the left side. This is one repetition.
      5. Perform 5 repetitions of this exercise.

    How to Increase the Effectiveness of Massage for Lower Back Pain

    The following tips may help you maximize the benefits of massage therapy for lower back pain:

    • Stretch Out First

      Warm up your muscles to make massage easier and more comfortable. We recommend a program of gentle stretches for the lower back.

    • Use Heat to Loosen Up the Muscles

      Heat has the same effect on the muscles as stretching. It also encourages relaxation, meaning you may enjoy your massage even more. Take a warm pre-massage shower or use a heating pad.

    • Apply Lotion or Oil

      To reduce friction on your skin, use a natural oil or lotion. Almond oil is a good choice and one that many professional massage therapists use. For stubborn back pain, try using a pain relief cream.

    • Relax and Breathe

      Focus on your breathing during the massage, especially when the therapist is working on very tense or tight areas. This will keep you calm and encourage the muscles to relax.

    • Rest and Hydrate

      Give your body time to heal following the treatment. Rest if you can and be sure to drink plenty of water or herbal tea throughout the day.

    • Know your Limits

      If massage is causing back pain, then you should stop the treatment immediately and see your doctor. While some discomfort during deep tissue massage is normal, it should not hurt.

    When to Seek Professional Help

    Many people wonder whether they should get a massage or see a chiropractor for lower back pain. Physical therapy is another option, as these professionals typically use massage along with a program of exercises and stretches for back pain. Realistically, different treatments work for different people, and some people need a combination to see results.

    Of course, not all treatments are suitable for everyone. For example, those with herniated or bulging discs may not be good candidates for massage therapy. Talk to a professional about the suitability of massage for your condition. If you are unsure of the treatments available to you, consult your doctor.

    Always seek medical assistance if your back pain is severe or persistent, or if massage or any other treatment makes it worse.


    Patty Weasler, RN
    Patty Weasler, RN

    Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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