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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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What Causes Muscle Tension?

What Causes Muscle Tension?

woman-in-pain
woman-in-pain

Muscle tension occurs when a muscle (or group of muscles) remains contracted for an extended period of time. This might be characterized as a low-energy or low-intensity muscle cramp. Such tension in the muscles constricts blood flow, which in turn keeps oxygen and nutrients from reaching the muscle tissues and tendons. Muscle tension also keeps cellular waste from being carried away. The result is more muscle tension, spasms and damage. Why does this happen? There are actually several possible causes.

One key source of muscle tension is stress or anxiety. For our ancient ancestors, stress was a simple fact of everyday life, and their ability to response effectively to imminent threats (predators, hostile neighbors, natural disasters, etc.) was an integral part of their survival. As a result, their bodies evolved a set of short-term physiological changes that helped them to meet sudden life-and-death challenges by increasing their alertness, strength, speed and stamina. Today, we refer to these changes collectively as the “fight-or-flight” response, and they’re part of our evolutionary inheritance.

Unfortunately, there is now a kind of mismatch between the kinds of modern threats (real or perceived) that most of us encounter in our day-to-day lives and our bodies’ primitive fight-or-flight response. Instead of short-term physical dangers, modern stress is much more likely to come from social or financial pressures that are (usually) lower-intensity but more prolonged. Mounting bills, insane work deadlines and relationship problems are all great examples. This is a problem because our fight-or-flight response was really designed to be “switched on” only for very short periods of time—essentially, just as long as it took us to either defend ourselves or escape from a physical attack. It turns out that the human body pays a high price for the fight-or-flight response, and this price is especially high when the response is activated continuously over long periods of time, even at relatively low levels. Chronic muscle tension is just one potential result.

Muscle tension can also be the result of underlying structural problems or injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system, especially in the back or neck. When the spine is misaligned or there is an injury, the body may compensate by activating other muscles or muscle groups to stabilize the area and prevent pain. These muscles are put under additional strain for which they were not designed, leading to chronic muscle tension.

Chronic muscle tension itself can lead to new kinds of discomfort and pain. The pain can lead to an increase in anxiety and more muscle tension. This becomes a vicious cycle—an unhealthy, downward spiral. Luckily, there are a number of different ways to relieve muscle tension.

One of the best ways to relax your muscles is to exercise. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but muscle use increases blood flow and, accordingly, reduces the tension caused directly from lack of such blood flow. Exercise also produces endorphins which help to relieve stress and anxiety.

Heat is another method of relief. It can help by opening up blood vessels and relaxing the tense muscles. Use care when applying a hot pack. With heat, you can do too much of a good thing. Use a cloth between the pack and the skin so the heat remains measured and soothing. If you use an electrical heating pad, do not lie on the pad, but lay the pad on the tense muscles.

Water therapy can also help reduce muscle tension. Floating in a swimming pool or on a waterbed can prove to be extremely therapeutic because of the relaxing nature of wave action on the body.

Of course, a massage therapist is an expert at helping muscles relax. A truly good therapist can adapt his or her technique to your specific situation and will be skilled at gradually building up the intensity of the massage so that you’ll receive all the therapeutic benefit without losing the relaxation benefit.

Remember—it’s important to understand the underlying cause of chronic muscle tension so that it can be addressed in an effective way. Your chiropractor is specially trained to determine if the underlying cause is structural. If it is, he or she may be able to perform adjustments to correct the problem. Depending on your specific situation, your chiropractor may also recommend a treatment plan that includes several of the therapies mentioned above in order to relieve your pain and restore your mobility as quickly as possible.

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