Ask the Doctor: What do I do for back pain?

Q. I’m having some back pains and my friend suggested massage therapy. Does this work? Is this recognized as medical treatment?


A. Your friend is indeed correct in her advice to you. Unfortunately, this is a very common problem. Only 20 percent of adults can escape from ever having back pain in their lifetime.

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Massage is a medically recommended treatment for back pain.

Although back pains are difficult to treat, studies sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine show that massage therapies significantly reduce symptoms. When following people who received massages weekly for ten weeks, functioning increased dramatically.

While massage therapy does not actually cure back pain, it alleviates current symptoms. It is now recognized as a medical therapeutic option. The 2009 American Pain Society guidelines list massage therapy as a clinical practice option.


Home Remedies for Back Pain Relief

In addition to massage therapy, there are measures that can be taken at home which will prolong the beneficial effects of the massages.

  • Support – for those times when sitting for prolonged periods of time like a long car ride or working at a desk becomes an issue, place a pillow between the seat and your back. Don’t cross your legs. Keep your feet squarely on the floor.
  • Exercise – strengthens muscles and effectively relieves back pain. Types of exercise that cause less stress include swimming, yoga, and walking, stretching, isometrics. Elastic bands are available in most sporting good stores and have exercise program manuals with them. Though it is tempting to stay in bed and avoid exercise, doing so actually makes back pain worse.
  • Sleep Positions – lie on your side with a pillow placed between your knees. This relieves back strain and alleviates pressure on the spine
  • Baths – warm baths aid in relaxation to the muscles.
  • Over-the-Counter Analgesics – NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen do relieve mild pains.
  • Compresses – a heating pad or warm pack applied as a compress for 20 minutes each time relaxes the muscles and improves circulations to the area. Note- if the back pain is from a new injury, applies ice to the affected area for the first 24 hours to decrease any inflammation and then start with heat.
  • Meditation – stress creates tension on back muscles leading to chronic lower back pain. By having a quite time where imagery is used to get to “the happy place”, much of the tightness and tension is relieved.


If back pain continues or worsens despite the above measures and the massage therapy, seek out a consultation with a physician to rule out any medical causes for the back pain.