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Can massage therapy help with low back pain in the long term?

Can massage therapy help with low back pain in the long term?

Rachel Simhon, LMT provides all the information you need to know about the back pain you’re experiencing. Turns out, it doesn’t need to be permanent!

Low back pain: a common complaint

One of the most frequent complaints we hear about from our clients is low back pain. Some clients present with episodes of pain that are acute, which means they came on suddenly. Others describe pain that is chronic: it’s been there on and off for months or even years. And they may go so far as to identify with the pain, i.e. “I’ve got a bad back.” Either way, it can be debilitating and prevent you from fully enjoying life. 

How and why does low back pain happen?

Low back pain can range from a dull ache and tightness to sharp spasms that make movement next to impossible. You might recall a specific incident, like the time you hoisted a heavy suitcase into a taxi after a flight. Or you are not quite sure how or when the pain came on. Sometimes clients come to us with a diagnosis and imaging from a physician. And a medical history that may even include surgical interventions for structural conditions of the spine. More often than not, however, your pain is unknown in cause. 

A costly public health issue

The World Health Organization reported in 2011 that 8 out of 10 American adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives. The consequences of this go far past the individual sufferers. Low back pain is the second most common cause of disability in adults in the US. It’s also the number one cause of missed work days worldwide. And Americans spend approximately $50 billion every year in medical expenses related to back issues!

Contributing factors to Low Back Pain: Not necessarily a structural issue 

Low back pain is obviously a serious problem. But how can massage therapy help? Sometimes pain is related to structural damage to the spine or its surrounding structures. If so, you may really need surgical intervention. However these cases are fairly rare. The overwhelming majority of cases can’t be tied to a specific diagnosis or structural issue. 

Research suggests that a majority of adults have structural damage from acute injuries or degeneration but don’t have any symptoms. Therefore, it’s difficult to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between a bulging disc, for example, and severe back pain. Or prevents you from playing with your children. 

Common Roots of Low Back Pain  

Many of the factors associated with low back pain have to do with your lifestyle and/or habits. As a result, treatments that work long term involve making changes to your habits that could be causing the issue. Here are a few typical factors related to developing low back pain. And how the work we massage therapists do at Bodyworks DW can help address them:

Sedentary lifestyle

Lack of regular movement increases risk for not only the development of pain, but also its severity. Not moving enough has been associated with everything from poor circulation to adhesions in connective tissues and joint capsules. Not to mention weakness in the muscles that help support the spine. Something I hear very often from clients is that they would like to exercise and be more active. But they’re in too much pain. Dr. Ida Rolf, one of the founders of myofascial release techniques, described pain as “sensation accompanied by the motor intention to withdraw.” Something hurts, you don’t want to or are afraid to move, it hurts more, and the cycle continues. 

Massage therapy can help relieve your pain and increase your range of motion in joints. This can decrease your fear of movement allowing you to re-engage in exercise. It can be used to minimize delayed onset muscle soreness and help keep you active once you are regularly moving again. At Bodyworks DW we also recommend exercises you can do at home to make the session even more valuable. And, if we think it will help, refer you to movement professionals. These may include Pilates instructors, personal trainers, and strength coaches who can help you start a regular exercise program.

Excess weight

Excess weight can put strain on your spine. While massage therapy isn’t specifically a weight loss tool, it can help bring about relief. And since weight gain also frequently results from sedentary lifestyle, massage therapy can help remove barriers to getting regular exercise. For nutritional support, we can also refer you to a registered dietician who can assist with changes in your diet. 

Poor posture

Any posture held for a prolonged period can place excessive pressure on the joints, muscles, and discs, eventually causing pain. But sitting for long periods of time can be especially problematic in contributing to low back pain. Sitting for long periods constricts the hip muscles limiting range of motion. 

After a while you can lose the necessary range of motion in your hip joints to stack your spine over the base of your pelvis. In order to sit up straight, you then have to over-engage your low back muscles. This pattern is something I encounter in several clients a week. Deep tissue massage on your pelvic muscles at the hip joint can relieve tension that contributes to low back pain. And help you sit without strain. For homework, I often recommend self-release of the hip flexors in the abdomen using an inflatable ball (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hU5kqpTbynk) and exercises to help mobilize the hip joint (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GImwCsuBLyo).

Stress and other psychological conditions

When you are stressed or anxious, your breathing patterns change. Your body prepares for action (fight or flight) by sending out hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Your muscles tense to either fight or run, which is important for survival. 

Or at least it used to be. Back when our systems evolved and the things that stressed us were planning on eating us. Unfortunately, our body still equates stress to being chased by a tiger. And our systems are designed to deal with that instead of that report that is due by Monday. It would be far healthier if you could sprint down the block every time your boss yelled at you. However, you usually can’t take big physical action to help respond to the source of stress. And just have to sit at your desk and type. 

“Stress changes our breathing and posture”

All that hyped-up tension to act builds up in our muscles over time. Going to the gym can help a little bit but not as much as you would like. Our stress response systems are really designed to be used immediately, not 6-8 hours later. By the time you get to the gym your body actually wants to be resting and digesting. And often you end up denying it that as well. 

Relearning how to breathe naturally can help downregulate your constant fight-or-flight response. Some of the work that we do together is to relieve tension in your accessory breathing muscles. So that you can take a smooth and easy breath. After the session, I’ll always give you breathing exercises to do at home. To promote learning how to drop flight or fight and engage rest and digest systems: https://www.otpbooks.com/kathy-dooley-breathing-core-control/ 

Muscle imbalances

Different muscles support your trunk and help stack your spine. The length and strength of the muscles surrounding your vertebrae both need to be in balance. I often tell my clients that a building doesn’t remain upright simply because we’ve poured lots of cement on it. It stays up due to the placement of the materials being structurally sound and in balance. The human body is no different in this respect. 

Activities such as sitting at a desk all day or even overly strenuous exercise can result in muscle imbalances. An imbalance means that the muscles on one side of your body, for example, may be overactive. While the ones on the other side are weak. These discrepancies can pull the body out of structural alignment. And put strain on the spine and lead to pain. 

Sitting for prolonged periods leads to tension in the hip flexors. And weakness of the hip extensors and abdominals. Which makes it difficult to go from sitting to standing. And walking up stairs without strain in the lower back. 

With my clients, I do a thorough postural and movement assessment, along with manual muscle testing. This allows me to determine what to focus on during the session to relieve the root of your problem. I follow this up with recommendations for at-home exercises: https://tonygentilcore.com/2016/03/6-unconventionally-simple-exercises/.

How we work on low back pain at Bodyworks DW

Low back pain is one of the most frequent concerns from our clients at Bodyworks DW. So the therapists on staff have considerable experience working to relieve it. We are asked daily to help address it effectively and keep it from becoming a chronic issue. Our low back pain-focused sessions include assessments to identify postural and movement dysfunctions that might be causing your pain. 

We also work with you to develop a treatment plan. That includes the number and frequency of follow up sessions we believe would be beneficial. And at-home exercises and lifestyle recommendations to help keep you pain-free in the long term. Curious about back pain massage in New York City? Contact Bodyworks DW today or click on the button to book online at either our back pain massage Financial District or back pain massage Midtown Manhattan locations!

Neck Pain. The Real Issue May be Below the Knee...

Working Below the Knee May Help Your Neck Pain

Rachel Simhon, LMT and featured therapist of the month tells us why working below the knee can relieve neck pain. Don’t believe it? Take a look yourself!

Why did you get into massage therapy?

My background as a yoga and Pilates instructor specializing in pain management and injury rehabilitation inspired me to pursue a career in massage therapy. I’ve always been a very hands-on movement instructor. Manual therapy felt like a natural extension of the sort of work I was already doing. I also very much experience the world around me through touch! It made sense to take a step further, seeking formal training in a modality where I could focus on that. Keep reading to learn about the connection between your neck pain and everything below the knee!

Most common pain your clients experience?

The most common pain issue clients report to me is neck pain & shoulder pain. However when clients are on the table, everywhere below the knee frequently seems to be the most aggravated. This isn’t a coincidence. I often find a relationship between forward head carriage and tension in the calf muscles. I always do a thorough movement assessment at the beginning of an appointment. This helps me to see how the client is and isn’t able to move.

Then we may also do some manual muscle testing to investigate where a dysfunctional relationship might exist. I then work to release tension in areas below the knees like the calves that can have an effect on the position of someone’s pelvis. Consequently, it’ll have an effect on their overall standing posture and gait. 

I love working below the knee most of all because so often clients will not notice any issue yet focused work there can yield such dramatic results. After release of these areas below the knee I give clients homework to help activate underactive neck muscles. This paired with breathing exercises will help decrease resting tension in the diaphragm. Often times tension in the diaphragm will place stress on the accessory breathing muscles located on the neck.

What is Medical Massage? - Bodyworks DW Advanced Massage Therapy

What is Medical Massage Therapy?

Rachel Simhon, LMT & August’s therapist of the month answers the question, “What exactly is Medical Massage and how it can help me?” Take a look!

Very often our clients point out that the massage we give you at Bodyworks DW is very different than what you experience at a spa. This is because we provide customized, therapeutic work that falls under the classification of medical massage therapy

According to Article 155, Section 7801 of New York State Law, “The practice of the profession of massage therapy is defined as engaging in applying a scientific system of activity to the muscular structure of the human body by means of stroking, kneading, tapping and vibrating with the hands or vibrators for the purpose of improving muscle tone and circulation.”

Obviously, this is quite a broad definition. It covers a whole host of massage and bodywork modalities. So what is medical massage? 

How Is Medical Massage Different than Spa Massage?

A licensed massage therapist (LMT) is the professional performing the work in both the spa and medical massage settings. To date, there is no extra certification required in New York State to perform medical massage therapy above and beyond a New York State license to practice massage therapy. However, there’s plenty of post-licensure training and mentoring available for therapists who want to focus more on medical massage. The key distinction between spa massage and medical massage lies in the intention of the work. 

What is a Spa Massage?

The intention of a spa massage is generally relaxation, but can also be any sort of non-specified self-care. The spa massage experience prioritizes feeling good in the moment. A spa will often have additional comforts such as robes and aromatherapy in order to heighten the customer experience of pampering. This can have very wonderful results in overall mood, and feel very relaxing. However, the results usually don’t last very long. 

What is Medical Massage Therapy?

Alternately, NYC medical massage therapists focus on helping to manage a medical condition for the long term. We practice outcome-based massage therapy. This can include improving functionality after an injury, relieving pain, or managing a chronic condition such as arthritis or MS. As a result, many of our clients at Bodyworks DW have been referred to us for medical massage by a physician, surgeon, and/or physical therapist.

Medical massage therapy can sometimes feel uncomfortable at points during your session, but that’s often the trade-off. It may not feel as relaxing, in session, as a spa massage. But the results can last much longer. When it’s performed in a series of sessions that build on each other, many conditions can be improved or eliminated for the long term.  

What can medical massage help with? 

  • Physical pain from muscle tension around the spine and major joints of the body 
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Sciatica
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Tennis elbow
  • Torticollis
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Work-related or repetitive stress injuries
  • Muscle sprains and strains
  • Sports injuries
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Pain from arthritis 
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Scar tissue from trauma and surgeries

At a medical massage session, you can expect a thorough intake. Your therapist will ask you questions. Their intention is to understand what your goals for getting a massage are. With my own clients, I generally lead with “How can I help you today?” The most important details you can provide have to do with the timeline or history of your current concerns. 

Your History is Unique…Your Massage Should be Unique too

A client’s timeline helps us establish if particular issues are acute or chronic. This is important for knowing which techniques would be most appropriate. It also helps in getting a better idea of how many sessions you might need to achieve your desired outcome. 

For example, neck pain that came on suddenly and for the first time two days ago after taking a long standardized test is different than neck pain that has come and gone for the last five years after whiplash from a car accident. During a medical massage, your therapist might also ask questions about your lifestyle. A ballet dancer will have vastly different priorities than an attorney who sits for 12 hours a day at their desk.

Assessment and Planning for the Session

After speaking with you, your therapist will make an assessment of your posture and alignment. This involves you simply standing up so that the therapist can visually establish the location of certain landmarks. For instance, looking at the position of the head in relation to the ribcage and pelvis. It can also include assessment of how certain joints move in relation to each other. 

We may ask you to bend forward and backward, side to side, and rotate in both directions. This helps determine whether or not you have movement available in all three planes. And what your range of motion in those planes is. Sometimes we’ll ask you to walk across the waiting room so that we can observe how you move during walking or running. Or we’ll perform manual muscle testing to assess the strength and function of certain muscles. And of course, every therapist will use their hands to palpate areas of the body to develop a plan of where to focus the work during the session. 

Addressing the Root of Your Issue

The assessment is important so that we don’t simply get stuck rubbing the areas that hurt like at a spa massage session. We want to address the actual root causes of your complaints. Many of you are often surprised to find your low back pain relieved by work on your hips. Or your elbow pain improved by focusing on your neck. While a spa massage might evenly divide time between both left and right sides of the body and front/back, medical massage is an individualized session based on your specific issues. 

Your medical massage therapy session may skip areas of your body, or feel quite asymmetrical. Frequently, pain is caused by asymmetrical posture. So an asymmetrical, customized session is often needed to bring you into balance. 

What Happens After Your Medical Massage?

At the end of a medical massage session you and your therapist will have an outtake discussion together to evaluate how to meet your goals. And to discuss specific follow-up recommendations for you. This may include how many follow up sessions you might need and how long you should wait between sessions. In addition, we’ll suggest exercises or lifestyle changes you can implement between sessions. These will help your body accept changes initiated during the session. And give you the tools to keep pain in check going forward. 

Not all conditions improve with medical massage alone. So we may refer you to another wellness provider such as a pilates instructor, physical therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, orthopedist, etc. We have a wide network of colleagues that we and our clients have raved about. Everyone we refer to has been vetted for excellence in their field. 

Our own staff has a wide array of skill sets. We might also suggest that you work with one of our colleagues in-house. Especially if we feel like they might be able to help you more quickly. We invite you to think of medical massage as part of a healthy lifestyle!

At Bodyworks DW we Specialize in Medical Massage

We offer medical massage in the New York area in Midtown and the Financial District. Would you like to schedule a professional medical massage with a qualified massage therapist in midtown Manhattan or in the Financial District? Contact Bodyworks DW today or click on the button to book online at our medical massage Midtown or medical massage Fidi studios!