Getting Just the Right Massage Technique for Lower Back Pain

May 21, 2019

Woman receiving a lower back massage
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Most people living with chronic lower back pain will try anything to relieve their symptoms. Deep tissue massage for lower back pain, one of the most popular methods for treating pain, has been in practice for thousands of years. And every year, as many as 59.5 million Americans turn to this technique for help.

If you're interested in getting a massage, certain techniques may provide more relief from your symptoms compared to others. However, be sure to research practitioners in your area. Licensed massage therapists receive specialized training and education to provide the safest, most effective massage possible. Before you try this ancient, pain-relieving practice, be sure you're seeing a licensed professional masseuse.

Muscles Involved in Lower Back Pain

Before you schedule your massage appointment, it's important to understand which muscles most contribute to lower back pain. After all, if your masseuse doesn't target the correct muscles, you won't get the maximum benefit from your session.

For many people, two separate muscles play the biggest role in back pain: the quadratus lumborum and the gluteus medius.

The quadratus lumborum, which connects the lower most rib to your pelvis, commonly causes lower back pain. This muscle is often strained by activities that engage your lower body while keeping your upper body still. These activities may include:

  • Lifting while leaning over
  • Poor sitting posture in a chair
  • Running on uneven surfaces

The second muscle often responsible for lower back pain is the gluteus medius. The gluteus medius, located on the outer surface of the pelvic bone, helps stabilize and align your pelvis. When the quadratus lumborum muscle is strained or irritated, the gluteus medius muscle tries to compensate. In many cases, this compensation then strains the gluteus medius, leading to more pain.

What to Expect During Your Massage

Licensed massage therapists are usually well-versed in the causative factors leading to back pain. The massage technique for lower back pain your therapist uses may differ according to their specific training.

Many therapists use a combination of stretching and deep tissue massage for lower back pain. Your masseuse may synchronize massage with stretching for 20 minutes or more on each side of your pelvis, working on both muscles in sequence.

Before beginning your massage, ask your therapist to focus on the quadratus lumborum and gluteus medius muscles. Also, let your therapist know about any other health problems you currently have, including any surgeries you've had. Open, honest communication with your masseuse helps him or her know exactly how to address your issues, and keeps you safe and free from further injury.

When Massage Doesn't Work

Despite your therapist's best efforts, massage alone may not be enough to provide complete relief from lower back pain. Depending on the massage technique for lower back pain your masseuse uses, you may only receive partial pain relief. So what do you do when you still have pain?

If deep tissue massage for lower back pain doesn't help, the next best step is a conversation with a physician. Doctors who specialize in spinal health may recommend certain diagnostic tests to determine whether your pain is caused by simple muscle strain or by another, more serious problem. If another cause is the culprit, your doctor can suggest medical treatments that may provide pain relief.

Massage can be very effective in reducing lower back pain, but it's important to let your massage therapist know this is your goal for treatment. Focusing on the lower back, especially the muscles most commonly responsible for lower back pain, may be the best way for you to experience the most relief of your symptoms.

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