Did you know that lower back pain is the most common musculoskeletal problem in the world? That’s right — nearly 1 in 10 people suffer from lower back pain, which also makes it the leading cause of missed work and limitations to activity. If you suffer from lower back pain, then it’s important to know that massage is a recommended way to treat lower back pain and speed recovery.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of massage therapy for lower back pain and your options for care. Here, we’ll explore how massage — from a trained professional or from a high-quality massage chair — could be the ideal relief for your back pain. But of course, always consult with your doctor first!
Why Does my Lower Back Ache?
What we think of as lower back pain actually comes from stress or inflammation from two major muscles – the quadratus lumborum and the gluteus medius – both of which play an important role in stabilizing and supporting the lower back and hips. When these muscles become strained, inflamed or stiff due to injury, fatigue or disease, they can tighten around the nerves, causing pain and decreased mobility.
The quadratus lumborum muscle is what allows your spine to bend backwards and your torso to bend sideways. It consists of several layers and extends throughout the lower back. When the quadratus lumborum tightens up, it may entrap nerves within the muscle fibers, sending sharp, stabbing pains. This stiffness can sometimes also create a dull, constant ache that acts up during sudden movement.
The gluteus medius muscle lies on the posterior hip, it’s what allows the thighs and legs to lift sideways and keeps the hips leveled when standing on one leg. Any stiffness or fatigue in the gluteus medius can cause pain in the lower back, rear of the thigh or buttocks, which will limit movement in the lower back and legs.
If your pain extends down from your hips and radiates into your leg, then you may be experiencing sciatic nerve pain. For more about the specifics of sciatic nerve pain, read our blog post.
Pain is categorized in three different ways, depending on how quickly it comes on and how long it lasts. in the case of lower back pain:
- Acute back pain has immediate onset and lasts for about 48 hours.
- Subacute back pain can develop from acute pain and typically resolves within a three-month time period.
- Chronic back pain is any pain that lasts longer than three months.
Whereas acute and subacute pain are usually brought on by injury and will heal over time, chronic pain is often the result of several underlying conditions and may require specific treatment.
Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Acute and subacute lower back pain can result from injury or trauma, or from undue stress on the quadratus lumborum and gluteus medius. Common causes include:
- Falling or suffering traumatic impacts
- Improperly lifting heavy objects
- Moving while having poor posture
- Not exercising or sitting for too long
- Sudden back movements after repetitive activities
Severe or frequent experiences of acute lower back pain can develop into long-term health conditions that are more likely to cause chronic lower back pain. The most common causes of chronic lower back pain include:
- Muscle decondition/atrophy from age or inactivity
- Bulged, ruptured or degenerative spinal discs
Benefits of Massage for Lower Back Pain
Guidelines set by the American College of Physicians recommend several non-invasive treatments that can be used to recover from lower back pain, including over the counter (OTC) pain relievers, exercise, heat wraps, acupuncture and massage therapy.
Massage therapy works by providing specific benefits for pain management and recovery, including:
- The release of the endorphins, serotonin and dopamine
- Improving circulation by stimulating blood vessels in the direct area
- Relaxing muscles and relieving tension
- Reducing feelings of stress and anxiety
A review of studies found that massage therapy can improve patient outcomes and should be offered as a means of pain management. A 2017 study published in the journal Pain Medicine details how people experiencing chronic lower back pain benefit from massage therapy. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Researchers looked at 104 subjects with persistent back pain who were referred by their doctors to licensed massage therapists.
- This was a diverse group of patients, including some who were obese, some who had other health conditions exacerbating their back pain, and others taking opioid pain medications.
- Over 50% reported clinically meaningful improvement in their back pain.
- Three months later, 75% of the participants who reported initial improvement said they still felt better — with no further massage sessions.
Massage Therapy Techniques to Relieve Lower Back Pain
While there are many different massage therapy techniques, the following are better suited towards relieving lower back pain, depending on your condition and preferred method of treatment:
Deep Tissue Massage: This is the most intense form of massage that uses slow strokes and heavy pressure to reach deep into your layers of muscles and connective tissue. This technique is for relieving muscle tension and addressing chronic pain. Take care when using, especially if you’re sensitive to pain.
Swedish Massage: Gentler than deep tissue massage, Swedish massage is a combination of long, flowing movements, kneading, tapping and vibration. It’s one of the most popular techniques and is used for both relaxation and minor pain relief.
Sports Massage: A sports massage is designed to treat athletes suffering from repetitive use injuries. This technique prioritizes increasing flexibility, though it also provides relief for pain and tension. It works through a combination of deep pressure, soothing strokes and stretching.
Shiatsu Massage: This is a Japanese style of trigger point massage, which works by applying pressure to specific stress points in the body in a rhythmic fashion. This technique aims to stimulate the body and induce healing through pulsing or rhythmic application of pressure to relieve tension and loosen tightness.
Trigger Point Myotherapy: Also known as neuromuscular therapy, this is a combination of deep tissue and trigger point massage. Concentrated, sustained pressure is applied to specific areas of muscle “knots” to relax muscles and alleviate spasms.
If you’re interested in specific types of massage, speak with a licensed massage therapist about what therapies they’re able to provide and which might be best for your condition. When researching massage chairs and other devices, review the available features and levels of intensity.
How to Self Massage for Back Pain
If you don’t have the time to see a massage therapist on a regular basis, it’s possible to DIY a self massage through the use of some equipment.
Using a mat and tennis balls
- Lie face up on a mat and place two tennis balls under your area of pain, one on each side of your spine.
- Bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor.
- Slowly move yourself up and down with your legs so the tennis balls roll along your lower back and work the muscles.
- Press your body down with your legs to relieve or increase pressure.
Using a mat and a foam roller
- Place a foam roller on a mat and then lie down, with the roller perpendicular to your body and directly below the source of pain.
- Bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor.
- Roll the foam above and below the source of pain to work the muscles.
- Use your legs to relieve or increase pressure into the roller.
Best Massage Chairs for Lower Back Pain
Of course, the most effective means of self massage is through a high-quality massage chair. Different models will possess features and functions to address your specific needs, including:
- Zero Gravity: A zero gravity position distributes your weight and reduces stress on your back.
- Heat: Heat settings loosen tight back muscles and help relaxation.
- Decompression Stretch: This stretch lengthens your spine, relieving pressure from the nerves and muscles in your back.
- Adjustable Intensity: Allows you to adjust pressure levels from deep tissue massage to gentle pressure, depending on whatever your back needs.
- Selectable Techniques: Further customize your massage therapy through tapping, kneading, knocking and synchronized techniques.
Here’s a short list of popular massage chair models for lower back massage therapy:
- Smart Chair X3 3D/4D – features lumbar heat, waist twist therapy, true inversion, spinal correction and decompression stretch.
- Infinity IT-8500 X3 3D/4D – features lumbar heat, spinal correction & waist twist, airbag compression therapy and decompression stretch.
- Kyota Kaizen M680 3D – features include zero gravity, five massage techniques and heat.
- Infinity Circadian Syner-D – features include spinal decompression and dual back massage.
- Kyota Yosei M868 4D – features include zero gravity spinal correction, waist twist and dual heat zones.
- Infinity Imperial 3D/4D – features include decompression stretch, lumbar heat and air bag compression therapy.
Visit our page for a full list of massage chairs that are designed to directly address lower back pain.
How to Get the Most out of Your Lower Back Massage
No matter how or where you get your massage, here are a few tips to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your therapy.
- When performing self massage, rather than one long session, perform at least a couple of sessions for a few minutes throughout the day, including a session right before bedtime.
- Combine with other therapies like stretching, exercises and application of heat and cold to further loosen the muscles and help reduce inflammation.
- When seeking a professional massage therapy or a massage chair purchase, always discuss your condition and the type of massage therapy that would be most effective with the therapist or consultant.
- Think about how to adjust your daily activity if pain’s exacerbating your condition. Take breaks or find new positions if you’re sitting at a desk all day.
- Always seek advice from your primary care physician if your lower back pain is severe or chronic.
Bring Massage Therapy Home
If you’re looking for a safe and regular massage solution that provides relief from lower back pain, the certified specialists at Massage Chair Store are happy to help. Our team is ready to talk with you about your specific needs through a free consultation. Let’s discuss your options and find your ideal massage therapy solution.