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Spotlight on Massage and Lower Back Pain

Spotlight on Massage and Lower Back Pain

According to the National Institutes of Health, lower back pain is the second most common form of chronic pain after headaches. Experts estimate that approximately 80% of Americans will seek help for low back pain at some point during their lives. Public health officials and insurers estimate that Americans spend $50 billion each year on treatments that are often ineffective. The standard treatment for lower back pain is to take muscle relaxants, painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications, along with physical therapy and back exercises. However, few medical interventions relieve pain reliably, and continuing to take painkillers on a long-term basis is not advised. Massage, on the other hand, has been found to be an effective way of dealing with back pain on a regular basis.

Treatment for lower back pain accounts for approximately a third of all visits to a massage therapist. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that patients suffering from lower back pain of unknown origin were helped more by massage than by conventional medical treatment. Of 401 total study participants, 133 received traditional medical care with no massage, 132 received structural massage (which addresses particular muscular and skeletal structures that cause pain) and 36 received relaxation massage (a general form of massage, such as Swedish, intended for overall relaxation).

Participants in the massage groups received one hour-long massage once a week for 10 weeks. All participants completed a questionnaire at the beginning of the study, then again at 10 weeks, 24 weeks and a year after the beginning of the study to report on their perceived pain. Both kinds of massage groups reported greater pain relief and ease of motion after 10 weeks of treatment than the medical group.

An average of 37% of the patients in the massage groups reported that their pain was almost or completely gone, while only 4% of the usual care group reported similar results. This was also the case at 26 weeks. However, at the one-year mark, the benefits to all groups were about equal. The type of massage used did not seem to matter, with both massage groups experiencing comparable levels of pain relief. The massage groups were less likely to report having used medication for their back pain after the 10 weeks of intervention, and they also reported having spent fewer days in bed and had lost fewer days of work or school than those in the usual care group.

Dr. Richard A. Deyo, professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland says of the study, “I think this trial is good news in the sense that it suggests that massage is a useful option that helps some substantial fraction of these patients. Like in most other treatments, this is not a slam dunk, and it’s not like a cure, but it’s something that seems to offer a significant benefit for a substantial number of patients.” Deyo sees massage as a way of people being able to break out of the pain-inactivity cycle. He notes, “I don’t see massage as the final solution, I see it as maybe a helpful step toward getting people more active.”

As always, chiropractic care shows the greatest success in the treatment of all types of back pain. We have found that chiropractic care combined with massage can be a very effective option for many of our patients. If you are currently experiencing back pain, be sure to call our office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Oblander. 406-652-3553

 

Massage Therapy: It’s Not Just for Rest and Relaxation!

Massage Therapy: It’s Not Just for Rest and Relaxation!

What do you think about when you hear the word “massage”? If you’re like many people, you associate massage with a day of pampering at an exclusive resort spa in the mountains or at the beach. But if that’s the first picture that comes to mind, you might be missing something very, very important. That something is the therapeutic value of massage—the ways that massage can actually improve your health and well-being.

While it is certainly true that many types of massage do help with relaxation, therapeutic massage also has a variety of important health benefits. For instance, therapeutic massage:

  • Accelerates healing by improving the circulation of blood and lymph to injured areas
  • Promotes flexibility by stretching and loosening muscles and connective tissue
  • Improves muscle tone and helps prevent or delay muscle atrophy cause by prolonged periods of forced inactivity
  • Relieves pain in joints by reducing inflammation and swelling in joints
  • Increases the effectiveness of chiropractic adjustments

Practitioners and patients alike have discussed these types of benefits for many years, but researchers have recently made a great deal of progress collecting and analyzing clinical data to understand the effects of therapeutic massage. Here are some “headlines” from their work as well as a few “notable quotes” from their study findings.

Improved Circulation and Post-Exercise Pain Relief

Investigators at the University of Illinois at Chicago recently conducted a study to determine whether or not massage improves general circulation and relieves soreness after exercise.

  • “Our study validates the value of massage in exercise and injury, which has been previously recognized but based on minimal data,” said Nina Cherie Franklin, UIC postdoctoral fellow in physical therapy and first author of the study. “It also suggests the value of massage outside of the context of exercise.”
  • “We believe that massage is really changing physiology in a positive way,” said Franklin. “This is not just blood flow speeds—this is actually a vascular response.”
  • Because vascular function was changed at a distance from both the site of injury and the massage, the finding suggests a “systemic rather than just a local response,” she said.

Reduced Chronic Low Back Pain and Improved Mobility

There are more than 100 million massage therapy visits in the U.S. each year, and lower back pain accounts for more than one-third of them. Why?  Because massage works!

A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that patients receiving massage (whether “structural” massage or “relaxation” massage) had better outcomes than those receiving typical medical care without massage. Measured after 10 weeks and again after 26 weeks, patients who received massage had less pain and better mobility than the control group. At 52 weeks, the results were less clear.

A review in Harvard Health Publications contained some very positive words about the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

  • “My interpretation of this well-designed study is that massage appears to be at least as effective as standard treatments for chronic low back pain.  It might even be better.  And it’s likely safer than medicine.  Depending on actual costs and insurance coverage, massage may even cost less than usual care.”
  • “In my opinion, it’s time massage became a more standard option for the treatment of chronic low back pain.”

The Chiropractic Care – Massage Therapy Connection

Massage is often recommended as an integral part of a broader chiropractic treatment plan, either in the form of massage to loosen muscle tightness before an adjustment, or after an adjustment to help the muscles adapt to the newly-repaired spinal structures. Many patients report that the combination of these two therapies works better than either therapy alone. In our experience, this is most noticeable with conditions that cause chronic pain—chiropractic manipulation or mobilization techniques work to relieve the structural problems and therapeutic massage works to resolve the soft tissue problems. This is why many chiropractors work closely with massage therapists to find the most effective treatment regimen for each patient—the one that returns them to a feeling of health and well-being as quickly as possible. In our Grand Avenue office, here in Billings, Dr. Oblander often works hand in hand with our massage therapists to work with patients who have been in car accidents, are worker’s compensation patients, or who have other issues which our experience tells us would be addressed by combining massage therapy with chiropractic care

If you’re interested in learning more about what massage and chiropractic care can do for you, please give Oblander Chiropractic a call at 406-652-3553! We’ll be happy to discuss your situation with you and to explain our approach. We’re here to help!

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Techniques for Improving Circulation

Techniques for Improving Circulation

industrial-pipes-200-300A healthy circulatory system is crucial to good health. To be at its best, your body needs to be able to keep blood pumping from the heart and lungs through the arteries to your organs and extremities, and then keep pumping it back to the lungs for re-oxygenation. Anything that interferes with the proper circulation of blood puts your body’s health at risk for lots of reasons.

“Poor circulation” can mean many things. Common symptoms include having consistently cold fingers and toes, experiencing tingling in your feet and hands, feelings of numbness, tiredness and a general lack of energy, and chronically dry skin. More serious symptoms of poor circulation can include headaches, hair loss, dizzy spells, varicose veins, muscle cramps, feeling short of breath, memory lapses (due to impaired blood flow to the brain), bluish-tinted skin, and slow healing times for wounds.

What causes poor circulation?

One of the most common causes is inactivity and lack of exercise. To keep the blood moving, you need to keep your body in motion. And do it often. Poor diet and carrying excess weight can lead to poor circulation, as can diabetes and many other chronic diseases. Medically, if you have been diagnosed as hypertensive (having high blood pressure), this is almost always an indicator of poor circulation. The “high pressure” is caused by your heart having to pump harder to cause the blood to keep flowing, often because of blood vessels that have become constricted because of stress, disease, or the buildup of plaque.

How can poor circulation be treated?

Serious circulatory problems can be treated with medication. But for most people anxious to improve their circulation and thus their overall health, a few lifestyle changes can do wonders:

  • Get more exercise. Walk rather than ride. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Go for walks after lunch and go to the gym after work. Your body functions best with a minimum of 30 minutes exercise per day.
  • Stretch more. Not just before exercising, but at your desk at work. Stretching helps to relieve stress, and stress is one of the things that can constrict your blood vessels.
  • Get massages. Massage improves circulation by stimulating the soft tissues of your body and encouraging blood flow.
  • Put your feet up. After you exercise, elevating your legs can really help you not only to relax, but increase your circulation. It also reduces your risk of developing varicose veins.
  • Eat healthier foods. Try to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (from fish, olive oil, and nuts), and lean meats. Try to avoid processed foods.
  • Drink more water, and less caffeine. When you’re thirsty, drink water instead of coffee or black tea or soft drinks. Try to cut down on or avoid alcohol, because it definitely impedes circulation.
  • Don’t smoke, or quit smoking if you do. Nicotine and the pulmonary perils of smoking are among the most common causes of poor circulation.
  • Destress, however you can. Stress has an extremely negative effect on your circulation. So try to find healthy outlets for the stresses you encounter at work and in other areas of your life, to release the stress rather than have it build up and become toxic.
  • Consider herbs and supplements that can help. Ginger, hawthorn berry, cayenne, motherwort, garlic, ginkgo biloba and vitamins C and E all can help to improve your circulation.

If any of the symptoms become chronic, see your doctor or chiropractor. Don’t try to “tough it out” and live with the discomfort of consistent symptoms of poor circulation. Some of the causes can be very serious indeed, so see an expert to make sure.

 

What is a “Normal” Pain Tolerance?

What is a “Normal” Pain Tolerance?

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man-in-pain-distorted

Pain is a nearly universal human experience that has several aspects. The first thing we usually think about in relation to pain is its trigger or cause. Perhaps you stub your toe, cut your finger while chopping vegetables, or feel the beginnings of a headache coming on. When this kind of thing happens, your body initiates a physical process driven by your anatomy and physiology. Your senses transmit a message through your nerves to your brain, saying “Something is wrong.” The second aspect of pain, however, is psychological and emotional rather than physical—how do you react to the message that your body is experiencing trouble? Do you ignore the headache and continue with your activities, or do you have to stop what you’re doing and focus on the pain to try to make it go away?

When it comes to our response to pain, two factors are also in operation. These relate to the idea of sensitivity. Pain threshold is the point at which pain first begins to be felt, and pain tolerance is the point at which a person reaches the maximum level of pain they are able to tolerate. When attempting to define what “normal” responses to pain are, both factors must be examined.

“Normal” responses to pain are difficult to determine because they vary so widely.

Some people may react to a bad headache by ignoring it and continuing to work, while others may react to a headache they rate at the same subjective level of pain by becoming completely incapacitated and having to lay down and close their eyes until it goes away. So what factors determine these differences in people’s tolerance of pain, and what can we say about them?

First, there seem to be differences in pain tolerance between men and women, with men exhibiting slightly higher pain tolerance than women. But this generalization can be affected by the oddest things. For example:

  • Studies of dental patients suggest that redheads have lower pain tolerances than people with other hair colors, and actually need higher doses of anesthesia during oral surgery.
  • Athletes have been proven to have higher pain tolerances than people who don’t exercise.
  • People who smoke or are obese are more likely to have low pain tolerances.
  • People who are depressed or anxious are more sensitive to pain and have lower tolerances.

There are also biological factors such as genetics, previous spinal cord damage, and chronic diseases that cause nerve damage that affect how we perceive, interpret, and manage pain. So the problem of defining what constitutes a “normal” level of pain tolerance becomes very difficult. But we recognize intuitively that we’re beginning to approach our own pain tolerance when two things happen—first, the pain begins to interfere with our ability to function in some way and second, it causes us to seek help.

As healthcare professionals, we generally distinguish between acute pain—the pain that usually results from a specific injury or illness, lasts less than 6 months and goes away as the body heals—and chronic pain, which can persist or progress over longer periods of time and may have no clear cause.

Depending on the situation, help may come in the form of common over-the-counter analgesics like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, or from more powerful drugs like opioids. Sometimes it may come in the form of ice, heat or topical treatments. And other times it may come in the form of hands-on therapies like chiropractic and massage.

Whatever your level of pain tolerance happens to be, you can get better at handling pain.

Because of the many factors that can potentially affect pain tolerance, managing one’s pain can be a challenging process of trial and error. You can’t change your genetic pain receptors and how sensitive they are, and dying your hair another color if you’re a redhead isn’t going to make you less susceptible to pain. But there are coping mechanisms that can influence the brain’s perception of pain and help you manage it, effectively increasing your pain tolerance. Relaxation techniques, biofeedback, chiropractic manipulation, massage, and mindfulness meditation have all shown surprising success at enabling people who suffer from chronic pain to manage it more effectively without the ongoing use of drugs.

So if you are one of the 25% to 30% of adults living with musculoskeletal pain, contact our office and ask for help—it IS available, and doesn’t necessarily have to come in a pill bottle!

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