Is your back tired, achy, or tight? Are you plagued by chronic low-back pain, or sharp pain between your shoulder blades from spending too much time sitting at a computer? Are you seeking effective relief from back pain and stiffness?
Or are you pain-free but stressed-out and seeking a healthy way to relax and recharge?
If your answer to any of these questions is "yes", then it's very likely you could benefit from a back massage.
The truth is that back massage can offer great health and wellness benefits to most people. Massage therapy is a safe, effective method for achieving short-term relief from physical pain,12 including back pain, clinical studies show,3 as well as psychological stress45. Massage therapy offers many other benefits as well, ranging from lowered blood pressure6 to better circulation7 and sleep8 - especially in the context of a regular massage therapy program tailored to meet your specific health and wellness goals.
Before you book your first back massage, read this guide to learn more about what you can expect during a session and some of the surprising ways that massage can improve your health and well-being.
What to expect at your first back massage
Many people have an image in their minds of what a professional back massage entails: a massage therapist gently strokes their palms up and down a client's back as the client lies on their stomach on a massage table. Soothing music might be playing in the background. The room is dimly lit and the client's eyes are closed.
This scene certainly does occur in massage therapy sessions, but there is greater variety to the types of back massages available than you might imagine.
For example, Swedish massage techniques, with steady, rhythmic kneading, pressure and sometimes percussive movements, are more likely to be used to promote relaxation. Aromatherapy - the use of scented oils during massage - can also aid in relaxation.
Trigger point therapy, on the other hand, involves the massage therapist applying sustained, targeted finger pressure to tight knots of muscle, until tension is released. This technique can cause some localized discomfort in the moment - that "hurts so good" feeling you might have heard about - but many clients find it to be a very effective treatment for stiffness and pain. The purpose of this kind of massage is less about relaxation during a session and more about effective therapeutic treatment for pain symptoms.
A trigger point therapy session may feel somewhat intense while it's happening, but achieving effective pain relief can lead to improved mood and feelings of calm and relaxation after an appointment.
There are many other massage techniques as well, originating in different cultural traditions around the world and developed with different goals and experiences in mind for the client.
Some popular techniques beyond Swedish massage and trigger point therapy include: myofascial release (targeting connective tissue); Shiatsu (Japanese acupressure massage); deep tissue massage (involving slow, deep strokes to reach deep tissue layers); and Thai yoga massage (in which the therapist places the body in a variety of positions to encourage stretching and circulation, while also massaging soft tissue);
Some of these massage techniques are typically performed with the client fully clothed (Shiatsu, Thai yoga massage). Thinner, loose-fitting clothing is best (think gym shorts or leggings and a t-shirt).
Many massage therapists study multiple massage modalities, giving them a range of techniques to draw on to best address a given client's needs. Feel free to do a little research before you schedule an appointment to explore the type of back massage you'd prefer, or simply reach out to a professional massage therapist to discuss your needs.
Any good professional massage therapist will be glad to answer questions about their training, the different massage styles they practice, and what approach they believe could be most beneficial for your specific situation.
Back massage: Good for your whole body & your mind too!
Whatever type of back massage you decide to try, you are likely to experience a similar range of benefits. First and most obviously, massage therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for back pain.9 But the health and wellness benefits of massage therapy are not limited to easing tension in your back!
Massage therapy in general has been shown to effectively promote a range of positive health and wellness outcomes, including:
- Promoting mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety10
- Promoting cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure11
- Facilitating better sleep1213
- Supporting recovery from sports injuries14 and surgery15
- Managing symptoms associated with a variety of chronic pain conditions without the risks of surgery or opioid pain medication16
- Helping to maintain flexibility and range of motion in the joints of arthritis sufferers17
As if relief from muscle tension weren't enough, there are clearly many ways a client can benefit from back massage. The best way to maximize the health and wellness potential of massage therapy is through a regular massage therapy program.
Talk to a licensed massage therapist to discuss the type of massage and schedule that will work best for you!
1 "Study: Massage Helps Treat Low-Back Pain": https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/news/20110705/study-massage-helps-treat-low-back-pain#1
2 "Massage and Pain Relief": https://www.amtamassage.org/research/Massage-Therapy-Research-Roundup/Massage-Therapy-Resarch-Roundup--Volume-3.html
3 "Post-Surgery Relief for Pain": https://www.amtamassage.org/publications/massage-therapy-journal/post-surgery-relief/
4 "Relief Within Reach Massage and Stress": https://my.amtamassage.org/courses/detail/70/relief-within-reach-massage-stress
5 "Feasibility and effect of chair massage offered to nurses during work hours on stress-related symptoms: a pilot study": https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23059434
6 "Durability of Effect of Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure": https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3733180/
7 "Massage therapy improves circulation, alleviates muscle soreness": https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140416125434.htm
8 "Massage Helps Infants, Mothers Get Good Night's Sleep Together": https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/12/021218075244.htm
9 "Massage Therapy Can Be Effective for Low Back Pain": https://www.amtamassage.org/about/position-statements/massage-therapy-can-be-effective-for-low-back-pain/
10 "Massage Therapy for Mental Health": https://www.amtamassage.org/articles/1/News/detail/2930/massage-therapy-mental-health
11 "Cardiovascular Health and Massage Therapy": https://my.amtamassage.org/courses/detail/79/cardiovascular-health-and-massage-therapy
12 "Back massage intervention for improving health and sleep quality among intensive care unit patients": https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30942526
13 "Randomised controlled trial of the effectiveness of using back massage to improve sleep quality among Taiwanese insomnia postpartum women": https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23410501
14 "Massage is promising for muscle recovery: Researchers find 10 minutes reduces inflammation": https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120201173226.htm
15 "Massage for Rehabilitation": https://www.amtamassage.org/resources/massage-and-health/rehabilitation/
16 "Massage + Chronic Pain":https://www.amtamassage.org/articles/3/MTJ/detail/2851/massage-chronic-pain
17 "Swedish Massage Benefits Osteoarthritis Patients": https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061212091936.htm