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The Best Treatment for Lower Back Pain

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 07/13/2011
Last Updated: 08/10/2012

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Having just returned from Arizona where I was lucky enough to spend a few glorious days at Mirival Spa in Tucson, I must admit I'm feeling both fortunate and frustrated. Fortunate that I got to experience a beautiful, restful place and the most divine, mood-altering Thai massage. Frustrated because the massage therapist refused to fly home with me and take up permanent residence in my house. Even more frustrated because when I got home, I did an Internet searched for a Thai massage practitioner (thinking I could drop some hints to my hubby for an early birthday present) and came up empty.

Congratulations to the winner of the peanut giveaway from my recent post, 5 Reasons You Can Lose Weight With Peanuts I and several other peanut-savvy judges have chosen Kristen Gough of Solon, Ohio, as the winner based on her inspiring descriptions of how her family uses peanut butter: My daughter makes a peanut butter banana split using a whole wheat tortilla (or pita) slathered with peanut butter, banana slices and a little drizzle of honey. Roll it up and you can carry it anywhere. My hubby makes a mean bbq sauce by starting with a cup of 100% cranberry juice and boiling it down until it halved (good for your urinary tract!), then he adds about 1 1/2 of our favorite bbq sauce, mixing it, then finishes it off with a tablespoon of peanut butter to cut the sweetness. Add salt and pepper to taste and you've got a tangy sauce for dipping or slathering.

Thai massage is different than a traditional massage. You remain fully clothed, and no oils are used. You lie on the floor on a padded mat, where the therapist gently eases your body into deep yoga-like stretches (that you thought would be absolutely impossible to achieve), incorporating muscle compression and acupressure. It's both energizing and relaxing.

While I'd be thrilled to find a Thai massage practitioner nearby, I love all massages. If I could be granted one wish, cost notwithstanding, it would be to have a massage every week. If that's too much, I'll take one every month.

But that's not to be. For me, it's an occasional indulgence, usually when I'm on vacation and want to do something special for myself.

Yet a massage is not always strictly an indulgence. Recently, researchers who studied 400 patients, made up of mostly middle-aged white females with chronic low-back pain lasting for at least three months, proved that.

Low-back pain is no doubt something you've experienced at some point in your life; it's one of the most common reasons people seek medical attention. A whopping 80 percent of adults have an episode at sometime in their lifetimes. Yet despite the fact that is so common, it's very tough to treat. Medications, surgeries and injections are many times used to no avail.

The recruits were divided into three groups that were randomly assigned treatments: one group received a weekly series of whole-body relaxation massage (better known as a Swedish massage, which promotes overall relaxation), one had structural massage (which manipulates hip and back muscles and ligaments) and the third got the more common usual medical care (which includes painkillers, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants or physical therapy).

At the end of the 10-week study, the massage won out. Both types of massage were more successful in alleviating pain and increasing function than usual care. Even better, the groups that responded to massage were less likely to report using medication for their back pain than those in the usual care group; they also spent fewer days in bed and missed fewer days of work or school.

That's great news, since massage is so readily available, especially Swedish-style massage. It's much, much easier to find a practitioner trained in this type than in the more complex Thai method.

Now here's the rub (sorry, I couldn't resist), as I see it: Insurance companies typically pay for medications, surgeries and injections. But they don't (usually) cover massage.

Maybe the day will come when massage is no longer considered just an "indulgence" and we will be able to afford to sidestep so many ineffective treatments for back pain for a treatment that not only helps, but feels good while it's helping. In addition to its ability to help with pain, massage can lower blood pressure, change your stress hormones and, in turn, ramp up your disease-fighting arsenal. (Can you tell I'm a fan?)

In the meantime, if anyone out there is listening, if there's another study on tap, next time for neck pain, sign me up!

You may also be interested in reading more about this study.

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When my husband injured his shoulder years ago, the Dr showed me exactly where and how to rub it and this combined with PT helped him heal. I believe in the power of massage! I just read somewhere about a book that offers tips on what and how to rub certain areas. I can't think of the name of it though and need to find it.

Ah, yes, the healing power of touch. I'd love to know the name of the book if you find it, No Pot!

I've heard of some doctors writing letters on behalf of their patients to insurance companies to get therapeutic massages covered if necessary. I've had a Swedish massage but I've never had a Thai massage.

Yes, I've heard of that, but sometimes insurance companies still refuse to recognize it as a "legitimate" therapy and pay. Susan, if you ever get the opportunity to try a Thai massage, do...it's unlike any other I've had!

I'll second that. I would sign up for a massage study anytime. I used to have them once a month, but had to quit due to finances. It kept me healthy and relaxed. Maybe someday I'll be able to start up my routine again.

I'd welcome a massage each month. I think that would be fantastic - and definitely keep me looking forward to the following month!

I say all the time that if we ever won something like LOTTO ... I would want a massage a day. Heck, I could put one on staff ... alas, its only a fantasy. Still, I have a gift certificate for a 90-minute massage left over from my b-day. I really need to get that scheduled.

Roxanne, If I were you, I'd go and schedule that 90-minute massage. That is definitely too good to waste!

I've never had Thai massage, but have always been amazed at what Neuromuscular massage does for me. Excellent stuff, really.

I hope to hear more about your trip to the spa in a future post. I cannot go to spas, since I must stay put for my business, so your stories allow me to dream. As for massage, well, I must say my town is fortunate to have a number of options. I have found the very best massage therapist, yes. Categorically. She also does polarity and used to be a nurse. I have become addicted to her ministrations. Massage is fairly new in my life. Almost two years now. I wish it were reimbursed by insurance, and I was really interested to hear that study, which does not surprise me. This country is hooked on drugs. Drugs, remember, are chemicals. How can putting pharmaceuticals into our bodies, and, through our urine, into our water supply, be a good thing?

I've never heard of a Thai massage--what a wonderful experience. I can't wait to hear more about what you learned there. Anything you could try on your own at home?

I've never had a Thai massage, but you've convinced me to try one. Sold!

Can you believe I've NEVER had a professional massage? Never allowed myself to splurge on one! Now that I know it's medically proven to heal, I guess I really have no excuse.

I would love love love to try massage to help with aches, especially lower back pain. But we don't have the money for it right now. There is a massage school in town but I'm not sure I want students practicing on my achey back!!

A Thai massage sounds wonderful. And I like the fact that you don't have to take your clothes off, which, for me, always makes a massage a tad stressful! That's one of the reasons I'm a big fan of shiatsu.

if you're real lucky you and find a partner who loves giving them as much (well close) to giving them..and then its free!

I, too, have had my share of back pain that was cured years ago by a combination of chiropractic re-alignment and therapeutic massage. Since then I've been able to maintain an active lifestyle, pain free, with gentle strengthening exercises for the spine - simple and effective!

So glad it worked well for you, Joan. Being able to maintain an active lifestyle sans pain is so wonderful, isn't it?

Miraval is amazing. I really loved it, too. I know we perceive massage as an indulgence, but I believe it is a medically accepted intervention for many musculoskeletal conditions. And there is quite a bit of evidence that simply being touched, as you are during a massage, is very beneficial for health. So I think we can go ahead and indulge!

I know so many people with back pain who have found that traditional treatments just didn't work. But massage and acupuncture is what helped. I'm a very big proponent of massage -- using a skilled massage therapist -- when I have musculoskeletal issues from cycling, hiking or skiing.

Let's hope that people are able to find relief through the non-traditional methods!~

Just sent this to my husband, who's fighting chronic back pain/injuries. He's doing rolfing right now and it's working some, but the Thai massage sounds interesting.

Thanks for passing this on, Kris. I hope your hubby feels better soon.

Massage is incredible when delivered by someone who understands the art and science and also intuition behind the technique. The power of touch can heal. Your trip sounds divine. I want to go there!

That's so true. In the hands of a skilled massage therapist, I am putty! I do hope you get to visit Miraval some day...it is a wonderful place!

I'd have a deep tissue massage every week if the budget allowed. But as a person who has dealt with some serious lower back pain issues (and surgery) I do think of massage as part of my preventive therapeutic regime.

I think the reason back massage works for so many people is because of stress: people are walking around with tight muscles. The best thing for back problems is to relieve that stress but when you cant, you are right, massage is the answer. Also swimming!!

The best thing for the back is to relieve your mental stress but as you said, massage is excellent to relax those muscles. Also swimming!!

But for those who don't have time going to a masseuse for a massage, it's best that they have something at home which can bring them the same treatment a masseuse can give, like a massage chair at home.


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