Marina Alyea, a certified massage therapist in San Francisco, is familiar with the ravages of back pain. She has worked on people’s backs that were so tight and inflexible that they felt armored. “Often people don’t realize how much tension they feel until they’re touched,” she says.
The most typical problem areas are the upper back, neck and shoulders, followed by the lower back — aches that are generally brought on as a result of job-related stress and a sedentary lifestyle, explains Alyea. In the effort to be more active, her clients often become weekend sports fanatics “and injure themselves because they’re so tight from work,” she says.
Emotions can also take their toll on a person’s back. “I had one client who was talking about the possibility of going to war, and while I was massaging her, she came out with her great worry that her son might be drafted,” Alyea says. After confiding her fears, Alyea says, the client breathed more deeply and her shoulders finally relaxed.
What’s gratifying, she says, is seeing someone’s body loosen up. “Clients start having more color in the body,” Alyea says. “The tone of the tissue itself changes because massage increases circulation.”
Could massage help my aching back?
Scientists have recently done studies suggesting that it might. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that massage substantially relieved lower back pain over the long term for people who suffered moderately severe chronic pain.
After an hour of massage once a week for 10 weeks, participants in the study found their pain levels had dropped dramatically — by nearly 50 percent.
With the reduction of pain, participants also improved their ability to carry out daily tasks by about 50 percent. One review of 13 studies found that massage may be beneficial for low back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education.
How could massage help relieve back pain?
There are many theories as to how massage works. The use of therapeutic massage dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures in China, India, and Japan when practitioners used forms of massage to promote well-being.
However, it’s only recently that Western scientists have done research suggesting that massage can