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What Massage Is Best for Tight Back Muscles?

Question:

The muscles in my back are so tight I can barely move without pain. Anyone who touches my back says it feels like a brick wall. I’ve tried various stretches and exercises, but I haven’t found anything yet that makes the situation any better. I know massage therapy is designed to loosen your muscles and help you relax. What’s the best massage for tight back muscles?

Answer:

It used to be that tight back muscles meant repeated visits to a doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist, along with prescriptions for expensive medications that may provide limited relief. Today, health professionals are increasingly recommending massage therapy as a convenient and cost-effective way to release your tight muscles and decrease back pain.[1]

Massage therapy is most frequently used to enhance your overall relaxation and reduce feelings of stress.[2] Randomized controlled trials have demonstrated a significant reduction in anxiety and stress as a result of massage therapy, according to a study published in the Western Journal of Medicine.[3] These results are cumulative, and can become long-term with repeated treatment.

Deep tissue massage may be the best massage for tight back muscles. Your massage therapist will discuss your back problem with you to help identify trigger points – knots in your muscles that decrease circulation and frequently cause pain.[4] By applying deep pressure directly to these trigger points, the massage therapist helps loosen and release those knots to loosen your muscles and decrease the pain you’re experiencing.

When you get a deep tissue massage, you’re not necessarily getting a whole-body massage (although of course you can request one). Rather, the massage therapist will focus specifically on the areas that are causing you problems – in your case, those tight back muscles. It is important to note, though, that deep tissue massage is a more advanced massage method that may cause discomfort, especially if your back is extremely sore or if you’ve never had a massage before.

If you’re nervous about deep tissue massage, you might benefit from starting with a Swedish massage, which uses more gentle movements to provide overall relaxation and loosening of chronically tense muscles.[5] Something else for you to consider is sports massage, which is a combination of Swedish and deep tissue techniques. Sports massage uses trigger point and neuromuscular therapy, and can help you gain increased flexibility and range of motion in your back and shoulders over time.

The benefits of massage are typically seen as short-term. However, you may experience long-term benefits with repeat treatments.[6]

References:

[1] Spine Health: “Can Massage Help Your Back Problem?” https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/massage-therapy/can-massage-help-your-back-problem

[2] Western Journal of Medicine: “Massage therapies” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071543/

[3] Id.

[4] Pain Science: “Massage Therapy for Upper Back Pain” https://www.painscience.com/articles/spot-11-erector-spinae-upper.php

[5] Pain Doctor: “5 Types of Massage That Can Help With Pain” https://paindoctor.com/5-types-of-massage-that-can-help-with-pain/

[6] Inside Out Body Therapies: “About Massage” http://www.insideoutbodytherapies.com/massagetherapy.html

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