Filed under: Back pain
If you’re struggling with back pain, therapeutic massage can bring some relief. Some evidence suggests that it can help reduce pain in your lower back and neck too.
There are many different massage techniques, such as Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, and sports massage. During a massage, a trained therapist applies pressure and other forms of manipulation (such as kneading, circular movements, or tapping) onto muscle and soft tissue. The application of pressure on different layers of skin helps stimulate blood circulation, which could alleviate pain. Massages can increase calmness and decrease anxiety, which also can relieve your pain.
Massages can be particularly effective at alleviating lower back pain, especially when combined with a strengthening and stretching program. Deep-tissue massages can relieve some post-workout muscle pain too. A soft-tissue massage around your shoulders and upper back can increase range of motion and decrease pain as well.
Massages are generally safe, but make sure you seek treatment from a trained professional. Still, a massage isn’t without risk. In rare instances, too much pressure can fracture bones or incorrectly manipulate your spine. A massage on broken, open, or irritated skin can be painful. If you’re pregnant or have a blood-thinning disorder, consult your medical professional before getting a massage.
If you have back pain, ask your doctor or medical professional about adding massages to your pain management plan. TRICARE doesn’t cover massages, but ask if your massage therapist offers discounts for service members and veterans. And, when possible, take steps to avoid injury and back pain.
If your lower back hurts now and then, or if you struggle with ongoing pain in this area, consider yoga to help relieve the physical and mental discomfort. Lower-back pain is common, but the good news is that the pain usually goes away pretty quickly without specific treatment for most people. For others, though, lower-back pain is chronic. Practicing yoga and yoga stretches can be a great short-term way to reduce the length, intensity, and frequency of lower-back pain. For some people, yoga can even reduce this pain in the long term. And what we know so far suggests there aren’t likely to be serious negative effects of using yoga for lower-back pain.
Yoga typically includes three parts. First, breathing retraining to help calm and focus your body and mind. Second, yoga can increase your flexibility, coordination, and strength. Lastly, meditation exercises can help you develop greater self-awareness, lower your stress levels, and improve your mood.
Yoga isn’t a replacement for seeing your doctor or talking to a healthcare provider about your pain. If you have a medical condition, consult your healthcare provider before you start doing yoga. Also, everyone’s body is different, but yoga can be modified based on your body structure and how your body is feeling. There is no such thing as “perfect form.” The best practice is what you commit to doing in that moment.
Wondering how to get started? HPRC’s Mindful Stretching Exercises Using Yoga Poses will walk you through some basic yoga stretches.
Service members and their families relocate a lot, and moving to a new home is hard enough without adding injury. Here are some tips on how to properly handle heavy objects such as moving boxes and furniture, and how to take care of yourself if you do sustain an injury:
- Wear less-restrictive clothing such as looser-fitting pants or workout clothes.
- Wear closed-toe shoes.
- Take breaks when necessary. Stretching and reassessing your mechanics can help you maintain proper posture when lifting. HPRC has tips on how to maintain flexibility and remove tension in your body.
- The U.S. Army has fact sheets on Lifting Techniques for handling heavy objects and How to Safely Perform Pushing and Pulling Tasks.
- Remember to keep your core tight, and use your leg muscles rather than your back to lift heavy objects.
The best way to prevent back injury is to strengthen your back and core muscles. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has suggestions and exercises to help build your back.
If you’re sore from all the lifting or think you may have pulled something, you can treat the pain with ice and rest—and perhaps an over-the-counter pain reliever—for the first 48 hours. Follow NIH guidelines on how to further treat your back pain if it’s acute. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor to rule out a more serious back problem or injury before you do any more heavy lifting. If all seems well, consider core-strengthening exercises to support your back. Another option is a yoga class to relieve your pain, build your muscles, and return your back to normal function.
For more about how to protect your back, please visit HPRC’s Injury Prevention Series. Good luck with your PCS!
Look around you. How many people do you see looking down at their smartphones? Are you reading this article on your phone or tablet? Most people look down at their phones while reading or texting. The problem with this posture it can be a major pain in the neck—literally. Doctors and researchers are calling it “text neck,” and they’re saying that this poor posture while looking at your phone is causing early wear and tear to the spine. The human head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. Looking straight ahead doesn’t add any strain to your spine, but as you tilt your head forward, the weight of your head begins to increase the strain on your neck and spine. Even a slight, 15-degree angle increases the weight on your spine to 27 pounds. Looking down at 60 degrees? That’s about 60 pounds. Think about carrying a couple of 30-pound ammo cans around your neck for several hours a day.
To limit your risk for text neck, look down at your device with your eyes, not your head. Better yet, hold your device up to eye level. Be aware of your posture and try adding daily exercises that strengthen your back, neck, and shoulders.
If you’ve ever had a back injury, you know that the recovery process can take weeks, months, or even years—this is referred to as a chronic condition. Preventing injuries to the back can save you from going down this long road to recovery. Check out our new article on back injuries that includes tips on lifting heavy objects, strengthening the muscles of the back, and maintaining adequate flexibility in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
HPRC continues its series on Pain Management with an article on epidural steroid injections (ESIs), which involve injections of pain medication around the spinal nerve roots. They are done by qualified healthcare providers for short-term relief of back and neck pain. They also can help doctors diagnose some types of pain. Learn more in HPRC’s “Epidural Steroid Injections for Pain."
A 2011 study of musculoskeletal injuries in an Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan found that low back pain due to stress and strain on the back (not actual spinal cord injuries) was the most common complaint. Common causes of back injury include overuse, poor physical conditioning, and incorrect body movements when lifting and moving objects. Fortunately you can decrease your chances of injuring the muscles and ligaments of your back. The key is prevention: Stretching is one way to help prevent lower back pain, but it’s essential to use correct posture and body mechanics when you pick up and move objects such as heavy ammo cans! Daily back exercises (from the Mayo Clinic) and stretches can help strengthen your core and improve your posture, and the University of Maryland offers more valuable tips for prevention. If you’re experiencing back pain, however, you need to see a qualified healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and exercise program.