Can massage therapy help lower back pain Cambridge, MA ?

May 24, 2024

Lower back pain is experienced by at least 50 million people each year in the United States alone. My own severe back pain when I was a teenager is what led me into this field.

Back pain is often a debilitating, terrible experience. But it can also be annoying and limiting. I’ve treated hundreds of clients who’ve been in back pain for many years. The greatest satisfaction comes when those clients are no longer in pain.



The Muscle Myth About Lower Back Pain

There is a common myth that most chronic pain comes from injured muscles. They don’t. Muscles are red in drawings because they have great blood circulation. When they get injured, they heal quickly.  If you injure a lower back muscle, you will likely get better overnight or in a few days.

The ligaments hold bones together. This neck ligament is almost white because they have minimal blood circulation.



The Slipped Disc Myth About Lower Back Pain

Another myth is that most back pain involves a slipped disc. A herniated disc in the spine that compresses a nerve is not that common. They represent a small percentage of back pain.


Of course, it’s a serious injury and requires a physician to diagnose the problem. Disc injuries usually resolve by themselves in about 12 months, but more severe disc problems may require surgery.





The First Culprit in Lower Back Pain

Injured ligaments are the most likely culprits in chronic lower back pain. The secret to treating this type of pain is finding the injured ligaments and knowing how to treat them.


Ligaments are structures that hold your bones together. There are many ligaments in the lower back, but a few of them are the most common causes of lower back pain. This drawing shows the sacroiliac ligaments in the center.




This is a close-up of the sacroiliac ligaments.


They attach the large triangular bone, called the sacrum, to the bottom of your spine to your pelvis. The most common lower back injury is sacroiliac ligament sprains. When these ligaments are injured, you often feel pain right across the lowest part of the back.



The Second Culprit in Lower Back Pain

A second commonly injured ligament in the lower back is the iliolumbar ligament. This holds the lower spine to the top of the pelvis. A third common injury is the sacrotuberous ligament, and the fourth is the sacrospinous ligament, which attaches to the bottom of the sacrum to the pelvis.

The Key is Assessment

In most cases, a series of simple physical tests tell you what’s injured. For example, pain on this back extension test, which means you bend backward, gives you information about certain ligaments in the lower back.








This one is testing a particular nerve.







And this one looks at the amount of flexibility in the hamstring and the lower back.








Pain Down the Leg

Injuries to these ligaments cause chronic pain in the lower back and can also cause pain down one or both legs. This is because of a phenomenon called referred pain. Referred pain means you have an injury in one place, and it hurts in another place. For example, a ligament in the back can cause pain in the calf but no pain in the back.

Lower back pain can be triggered by sitting, standing, lifting, or all three. If you have discomfort or pain when bending forward, backward, or to the side, you likely have a ligament injury. Treatment involves locating and breaking up the scar tissue in the injured ligaments, followed by exercises to prevent the scar tissue from returning.


Eliminating Lower Back Pain

The secret of successfully treating chronic pain problems is identifying the exact source of the pain and then correctly matching the appropriate treatment required to eliminate it.


A Special Type of Massage Therapy Can Help Lower Back Pain

A special type of massage called friction therapy is used to break up the adhesive scarring that causes lower back pain. To treat the pain successfully, you must be able to identify the exact source.  It takes specialized training and skill to test where the source of the pain is.  Once this is done, the treatment is straightforward.



Exercise Rehabilitation

The goal of the treatment is to remove the adhesive scarring. When the scar tissue is broken up, the body tries to reform it. To prevent the adhesive scarring from returning, a simple repeated movement exercise must be performed. You can find those exercises by clicking here.


For Pain Across the Lower Back

 When you have pain across the lower back, you do exercise #1 on the video called Sitting Forward Bends.

Move very slowly, and never do it if you experience pain. Try bending less if you can do that without any discomfort. If you cannot do the movement without pain, it means you need treatment before performing any of these exercises.


If you are comfortable doing this exercise for a few weeks, you can try the second exercise from a standing position. But only if you can do it without discomfort or pain.


For Pain Across One Side of the Lower Back

Do you have pain across one side of your lower back and sometimes into the outer hip or groin, the third exercise? Then the Leg Up Forward Bends, is for you. It’s the third exercise in the video, about one minute and 40 seconds in.



For most lower back pain problems, it is straightforward to find the cause and treat it. Of course, there are complex cases that require a high level of expertise, but those are rare. If your practitioner cannot identify and explain the cause of your pain, find another practitioner.


If you have lower back pain and want to discuss it, call me for a free 10-15-minute phone consultation.

Call for a Free 10-15 minute Phone Consultation →

Ben E. Benjamin holds a Ph.D. in Sports Medicine and was the founder and President of the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  He is the author of dozens of articles on working with injuries and chronic pain as well as the widely used books in the field, Are You Tense?, Exercise Without Injury and Listen To Your PainThe Active Person’s Guide to Understanding, Identifying and Treating Pain and Injury. Dr. Benjamin has been in private practice for over 50 years and teaches therapists throughout the country.

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