10 Jan 2015
January 10, 2015

Back pain

Back pain affects most people at some point in their lifetime, old or young, active or inactive, the reasons are varied but I’ve found a few similarities between the cases I see whilst treating people using sports massage therapy.

The most common problems are usually associated with the upper back-sometimes also affecting the neck, and the lower back. When the discomfort is great enough lower back pain can almost completely immobilise a person, especially when the pain/injury is acute, and only if you’ve experienced this will you be able to understand how debilitating lower back pain and injuries can be. The most serious of back problems can actually be related to disc herniation and disc degeneration, and in extreme situations, surgical procedures are sometimes required to relieve this, however I have found both through my work and personal experience that if you keep a bit more active in strengthening ALL the muscles of the core/trunk, then there is far less chance of these severe problems occurring.

Upper back pain issues are most prevalent in people who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, or driving for long periods of time, and sometimes looking after young children/babies that need to be picked up or elderly people that require assistance in moving around. It is true to say that incorrect posture plays a big part in contributing to this, but however good or bad an individual’s posture is, if you’re muscles are held in the same position for long periods of time, it is likely that some stiffness and dysfunction in movement will occur. The best way to remedy this pain in the upper back is to start using the muscles more specifically with a well designed exercise routine utilising weights, and ideally these exercises for the upper back will have some shrugging type movements and some exercises to retract the scapula, such as seated rowing movements. These exercises will help to mobilise and loosen the muscles and get the muscles ‘firing’ in a way that helps to adjust your posture into a mechanically more efficient position, and this type of exercise when combined with some deep tissue sports massage will be of benefit.

Lower back pain is something that can occur in active and inactive people, it usually presents itself (when acute) with impaired walking and movement in general, and this can be observed easily. In my experience lower back problems in inactive people are as a result of lack of strength in general or lack of strength in a particular area of the trunk or core which causes imbalance, the latter being the most common cause. In active people, over exertion and/or incorrect form when performing exercises or sports can then create problems, and indirectly have the same effect on your lower back as muscle imbalance can, so the end result is actually always the same. Lower back pain can be particularly debilitating, (I’ve had several bad episodes of this myself) and initially it is essential to completely rest, because there is usually associated muscle spasm with inflammation/nerve irritation, and only at rest will this have a chance of subsiding, but as soon as this starts to become easier, (usually 3-5 days after the worst effects) then some very thorough deep tissue sports massage focusing on the spinal erectors and also working into the gluteal and hamstring muscles will have a beneficial effect on these symptoms, and when the worst of the pain has started to subside, it is ideal to start an exercise routine structured around increasing the strength in the core and prime mover muscles.

The sports massage therapy used to treat and relieve upper and lower back pain needs to be very specific around some key groups of muscles, it also needs to be a ‘deep’ specialist massage because the muscles around the hip, lower back and legs are the most powerful in the body, and do not respond to a lighter pressure treatment.