Baby Your Back
TAME THE PAIN WITH MASSAGE
By Karrie Osborn
Anyone with recurring, unyielding back problems knows the beast that is called back pain. While most of us have experienced back pain that comes from overexertion or muscle pulls, the effects of back pain for many can be debilitating, excruciating, and life changing. Experts say back pain accounts for $100 billion in lost productivity and health-care costs each year and is one of the primary causes of work-related disability. Managing back pain can be a daunting and exhausting proposition. One natural avenue for finding relief is massage therapy.
Whether you’ve pulled a muscle in your yoga class or afternoon basketball game, or you suffer from long-term pain caused by an injury, back pain affects us all. In fact, when it comes to low-back pain specifically, researchers
say that 70–85 percent of the population will experience it at some point in their lives.
Unfortunately, the back pain numbers are growing. A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the rate of chronic low-back pain has more than doubled in North Carolina since 1992 (from 3.9 percent in 1992 to 10.2 percent in 2006), a statistic the researchers say reflects what’s happening across the country.
Arizona-based massage therapist Geoffrey Bishop says approximately 95 percent of his clients come to him with some sort of back pain these days, while still other therapists report that nearly all of their massage clientele—from children to seniors to weekend warriors—experience this particular pain.
Obviously, the costs associated with back pain are also growing. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on low-back pain alone, which is second only to headaches as the most common neurological ailment in the United States.
WHAT CAUSES THE PAIN?
Back pain is an especially debilitating condition because every movement your body makes depends on the spine functioning optimally. When back pain shows up, your whole body knows it, and sometimes exacerbates the problem by compensating in other ways to avoid the pain. It’s not unusual for sufferers to have secondary problems related to those compensation patterns.
Experts say the cause of back pain can be the result of several factors. High on the list is stress. Hunched over a keyboard, late on a deadline, bogged down in worry—many are familiar with this life. When our body is stressed, we literally begin to pull inward: the shoulders roll forward and move up to the ears, the neck disappears, and the back tightens in the new posture. “It’s an armoring effect,” says Angie Parris-Raney, a Denver-based massage therapist who specializes in deep-tissue massage and sports therapy. She says this natural response to pain can create more problems when left unchecked. “That protective mode, with the muscles in flex, can even result in visceral problems,” she says, where the pain also affects internal organs.
In addition to stress, poor posture, bad ergonomics, lack of exercise, arthritis, osteoporosis, a sedentary lifestyle, overexertion, pregnancy, kidney stones, fibromyalgia, excess weight, and more can spark back pain.
For the on-site clients Bishop sees at a manufacturing plant, the majority have some sort of back pain related to their work. While these workers have the option to sit or stand at their assembly station, Bishop says the repetitive motion they perform throughout their shift—with their arms and hands continuously extended forward—has most of them complaining of back pain. Fortunately, this employer has seen the value of massage for its employees and brought Bishop on as part of the company’s wellness program.
Bishop, who owns Stay Tuned Therapeutics in Flagstaff, says mechanics is the main cause of back pain that he sees in his practice. “It’s mechanics, including repetitive use and ignorance about preventative postures, and neglect by employers and employees to provide rest and recovery.” The past also plays a part, he says. “Old injuries and traumatic events, left untreated and unresolved, seem to dictate where stress lands in the back as well.”