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Benefits of Massage Therapy for Back Pain

Back pain is extremely common, with most people experiencing some form of back pain in their life and 25% of people report experiencing back pain in the last three months1. Back pain can be quite debilitating and is one of the leading causes of missed work and contributes to people’s inability to participate in recreational activities leading to a decreased quality of life2.

There are many causes of back pain including: muscle strains, sprains or muscle spasms from injury, incorrect posture, poor body mechanics or overuse injuries, pregnancy, osteoarthritis and disc herniation (slipped disc)3. However, often the exact structure that is causing the back pain cannot be determined but the pain is known to be coming from muscles, joints or ligaments. This type of pain is often labeled as mechanical back pain4.

Since there are many causes of back pain the symptoms can vary, however, typical symptoms include stiffness, muscle spasm, difficulty bending or twisting, difficulty standing or sitting for periods of time and radiating pain into the arms, legs or buttocks5.

Massage Therapy Can Help

Studies have shown that massage therapy is beneficial in decreasing mechanical low back pain especially when it’s combined with exercises such as stretching and strengthening. Massage therapy has also been shown to increase mobility or movement in the trunk6. Proper trunk movement is important because it allows the spine and muscles to function better and this can increase people’s ability to participate in activities of daily living.

Physicians are moving away from prescribing pharmaceuticals (pain killers) as a first course of action for patients with back pain. Instead they are often recommending massage therapy as a first course of action. There are many studies that indicate that massage therapy can decrease the amount of back pain people experience resulting in less reliance on pain medications7.

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1. Brook, M.,Deyo, R. Mirza, S. & Sohail K. Back Pain Prevalence and Visit Rates, Spine: November 1, 2006 - Volume 31 - Issue 23 - p 2724-2727 accessed

2. García, A.& Sarría-Santamera A. The Economic and Social Burden of Low Back Pain in Spain, SPINE: August 15, 2020 - Volume 45 - Issue 16 - p E1026-E1032 accessed

3. Viznaik, N. & MacDonald, T. (2018). Quick Reference Evidence Informed Clinical Massage. Professional Health Systems Inc. p. 204-238

4. Chien, J.J., Bajwa, Z.H. What is mechanical back pain and how best to treat it?. Current Science Inc 12, 406–411 (2008). Accessed

5. Herting, D, and Kessler, R. (2006). Management of Common Musculoskeletal Disorders: Physical Therapy Principles and Methods 4th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins p. 858-859

6. Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Krasnegor, J. & Theakston, H. (2001) Lower Back Pain is Reduced and Range of Motion Increased After Massage Therapy, International Journal of Neuroscience, 106:3-4, 131-145 accessed

7. Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, McLean RM, Forciea MA; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2017 Apr 4;166(7):514-530. doi: 10.7326/M16-2367. Epub 2017 Feb 14. PMID: 28192789. Accessed