No Spa, No Problem: Try Self-Massage at Home

These at-home techniques can relieve pain and loosen tense muscles.

If you deal with chronic back pain and your state has closed down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have thought: How will I get a massage?

Self massageNo spa, no problem! Try these self-massage techniques.

Maybe you rely on regular massages to relieve the pain in your consistently aching back. Studies suggest that massage therapy can reduce low back pain, particularly for the short-term.

As the pandemic drags on but some states begin to reopen, you may be able to find a massage therapist who is open(with precautions in place of course). But there’s a good chance your massage therapist either cannot or has chosen not to practice right now. Or, you still feel too nervous to go to an appointment and you’d prefer to wait a few months.

But your back pain won’t wait. So what do you do?

Self-massage To the Rescue

“Massage therapy can help relieve back and neck pain in a variety of ways,” says Eric Freeman, DO, an Interventional Spine and Pain Specialist at Redefine Healthcare. “It relaxes muscles, which often improves range of motion, reduces injury, maximizes healing, and results in a better sleep pattern.”

If sitting in your desk chair as you work from home has your back in knots and you’re experiencing more muscle tension and stress than usual, there is an option you can consider: self-massage.

Self-massage is a great alternative until you’re able to see your massage therapist. It’s a way to experience some much-needed relief, and our experts will tell you how to do it safely and effectively.

Consider Safety First

Before starting a self-massage regimen, check in with yourself and your pain level, and make safety a priority.

Dr. Freeman explains that any muscle region, including the spine, can reap the benefits of massage. He also stresses, “Always consult your spine pain specialist to determine the cause of pain and if massage is a beneficial form of treatment. As always, if at any time during the massage you experience pain, stop immediately.”

Self massage talk to doctorGet cleared by your spine specialist before starting a self-massage regimen

Ben Brown, LMT, a licensed massage therapist and sound practitioner, says that his self-massage tips are geared toward reasonably healthy individuals. “People should get medical attention, advisement, or clearance if they suspect or have any history or condition that would put them in harm’s way or injury,” says Brown

He adds that one should be particularly mindful of herniated discs, impingement, or spinal compressions, and in these cases, it’s best to seek medical instruction from a physician.

“Massage can help in those situations, but the timing depends on where the person is in their treatment,” Brown says.

Put on the Pressure

Dr. Freeman shares, “One way to safely give yourself a massage at home is to locate painful areas in the back or neck caused by soreness and gently apply pressure with your thumbs, moving the muscle in static, stretching positions as well as slow circular motions.”

Keep in mind that when applying pressure, you don’t need to go big or go home—it’s best to start with gentle touch.

“It’s a good idea to begin in moderation and gradually increase the intensity, be it pressure, temperature, frequency, etc.,” Brown says. “We tend to act with the ‘more is better’ attitude, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes more pressure and more intensity leads to more problems. So, start gentle and increase from there.”

Stretch It Out

Although you’re not directly massaging the sore spots, stretching is a form of self-massage according to Brown. He recommends stretching at the start of the day or before strenuous exercise.

Specifically, he cites the runner’s lunge and a yoga posture called the “pigeon” as excellent stretches for releasing the psoas muscle, which is located in the lower lumber region of the spine.

Self massage stretchingThe pigeon pose can be an excellent complement to self-massage.

Yoga is another way to get in some beneficial stretching, which Brown says can release the hips, glutes, and back muscles.

“Don’t overdo moves by either overstretching or holding postures too long,” he says. “Seek your doctor’s permission if there are any medical concerns in which yoga could impair your health.”

Use Helpful Items

There are many products that can help you achieve a good self-massage. For example, Dr. Freeman mentions foam rollers and tennis balls, two things that, as he says, “help with stubborn trigger point areas of muscle pain and often provide relief with difficult-to-reach areas.”

Brown agrees that using tools such as foam rollers, tennis balls, and massage balls can help to apply massage techniques to the back, adding, “These tools are often used against a surface like a floor or a wall to apply pressure, drag, and friction to affect a muscle’s change.”

Self massage gearThese devices can make self-massage easier and more effective

He also says that motorized massagers can assist with some areas of muscle tension, like the lower side of the back, hips, and glutes.

Partner Up

When it comes to self-massage, there are some areas you may not be able to reach. In this instance, it’s recommended to rely upon a partner to massage those pain points. This may include the upper back and hamstrings.

Brown shares that partners can apply heat and warm compress applications to areas that you can’t reach. He also says, “Gentle massage techniques, like small circles or kneading, to the affected area can be helpful. Always be mindful of the pressure applied and start slow and gentle.”

Additionally, a partner can be instrumental when doing stretches.

“Assisted stretches can help and reduce the effort required to stretch yourself,” Brown says. Some of these assisted stretches include the supine twist and hamstring stretches. You can find tutorials for assisted stretches online.

If you are the one doing the assisting or want to provide guidance to your partner as you work through pain-relieving stretches, Brown says, “Move gently and slowly and pay attention to a person’s verbal and non-verbal cues, such as a wincing face and short breath.”

Self-massage practices can be helpful as you ride out quarantine, until you can make an appointment with your massage therapist once again.

On your own this pandemic? Online shopping to the rescue! Check out the best gadgets for back pain—and which ones aren’t worth your time.

Updated on: 07/14/20
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