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.
Therapeutic touch is an instinctive and eloquent form of communication that has been molded into a healing art. Larry Costa, author of Massage: Mind and Body, writes that massage has many "physical and mental benefits, including ... relieving muscle soreness, increasing flexibility, easing chronic pain, reducing tension headaches, boosting the immune system, promoting restful sleep, and improving concentration." Massage positively affects the body's circulatory, nervous, and immune systems. By encouraging blood flow through the veins, massage benefits the entire body.
When people with chronic diseases cross the threshold of a massage therapist’s office, they bring with them hopes of relief. Some health issues, like fibromyalgia (FM), cause clients pain. Others, like Parkinson’s disease (PD) and multiple sclerosis (MS), match pain with life-altering disabilities.
On the surface, it may seem that the best part of a massage is the wonderful feeling of relaxation and being touched, but the benefits are more than just skin deep. For almost two decades, researchers at the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami School of Medicine have documented the specific physiological and psychological changes brought about by massage therapy.
History, Neurology, and Dysfunction
Throughout the ages, understanding and addressing pain has been a matter of serious concern. Historical documents reveal that the great Greek physician Hippocrates incorporated hands-on treatments for pain some 2,300 years ago. And equally intriguing are hieroglyphics discovered in the tombs of great Egyptian kings portraying ancient bodyworkers treating the pained backs of elderly leaders.
Pain is an opinion. Too harsh? Have I no sympathy? Well, I’m not suggesting people in pain are just looking for sympathy, or that all they need is to change their attitude in order to take up their pallet and walk. Allow me to expand this concept of pain a bit. If I instead say, “Pain is an interpretation,” will I get a few minutes of breathing room?
Pain is an individual experience and, as pain expert Margo McCafferey notes, exists whenever the individual says it does.1 The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), the governing body of safety and quality in medical care, agrees and has now designated pain as a fifth vital sign, along with heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and body temperature. Recognizing the patient’s right to effective pain management, the JCAHO issued a mandate, beginning Jan.
Depressed patients with a history of back pain are more susceptible to back pain recurrence, according to a recent study published in the journal Pain. While the correlation has been evident for years, researchers ran into the “chicken-or-the-egg” issue: Does depression cause back pain, or does back pain cause depression? While a gray area remains, depression was specifically identified as an independent risk factor for back pain.