Back pain can be a real pain – as most of us will know personally, at some point in our life. But there are many natural ways to treat this, as we find out from just three of the therapists at the Alma Vale Centre, as they explain their approach to treating this
Nearly all of us will have at some stage in our life suffered with a back problem. From tense, tight muscles that can make normal movement difficult and painful, through to a more persistent problem caused by an injury to the ligaments or muscles from spraining or straining your back awkwardly – back problems are many and varied.
Some injuries can cause compression in the nerves, which bring about additional pain issues. When this occurs in the lower back it is known as sciatica. Then there are problems created by a torn or ruptured disc. More rarely, there can be fractures or dislocations to the spine, and also back problems that we are born with.
As the core of our frame, our back is involved in nearly all movement and activity that makes up our daily lives. So when we find ourselves with a pain, or more acute restrictions to our movement caused by a back problem, it can also have a huge impact on our mental health and wellbeing too.
Power of complementary therapy
As well as help with physical symptoms of back problems, complementary health can also help with the emotional aspects too.
Here at the Alma Vale Centre, many of our therapists work with clients with back problems – from our acupuncturists, reflexologists and massage therapists, through to our counsellors, and hypnotherapists.
Here, three of our therapists explain how their specialism can help to treat back problems: Acupuncturist Tiffany Black; Massage Therapist Cath Mowbray, and Shiatsu and Massage Therapist Leonie Klein.
Acupuncture with Tiffany Black
Find out from Tiffany Black how acupuncture helps back pain by treating the imbalance in the body that it can cause
More than 1.1 million suffer from back pain in the UK with 8.9 million working days lost annually due to musculoskeletal disorders (Health and Safety Executive, 2017, Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WRMSDs) Statistics in Great Britain) Of course, behind these statistics lie personal stories of agony, frustration, sleep disturbance, depression and an overall negative impact on quality of life.
Treating the person, not the symptom
With acupuncture, we treat the person not simply the symptom. So, although lower back pain may be identical in 10 patients each patient may be treated in a different way. In Chinese Medicine, we treat using the principles of Ben (root) and the Biao (branches) of disease. If we think of disease as a tree, then the branches and trunk are the symptoms – the Biao – and the roots, hidden from sight, are the cause of the illness – the Ben.
However, the beauty of acupuncture is that it can deliver immediate pain relief, as well as tackling the underlying imbalance that is causing the pain.
Recently, I had a 30-year-old patient asking for an emergency appointment because she was due to head off on an intense work trip, involving long haul flights, in five days’ time. Her back had gone into spasm several times over the previous decade and after a bout of flu had gone again. When she came into the treatment room she was in such agony she could hardly sit down. Even getting her to lie down was a challenge and so she was incredulous when, even after her first treatment, her pain was instantaneously lessened.
She could get off the couch unaided and watching the fear and stress drain from her features as she realised she could move without pain was wonderful to behold. After two further treatments the pain and stiffness had gone, and she was able to head off on her trip free of pain.
Massage therapy with Cath Mowbray
Cath Mowbray explains how massage therapy can alleviate back pain in a variety of ways
Some back pain can be caused by a niggling knot – something that’s been there for years; maybe you have strained a muscle once through exercise or injury and it never properly healed. Over time, it has affected a bigger area and is possibly referring to other areas too.
Impact of deep-tissue work
Deep-tissue techniques or hot-stone therapy can give that knot a chance to breakdown and recover by focusing on the deeper layers of muscle tissue, tendons and fascia.
This increases blood flow and circulation, bringing much needed nutrition to muscles and tissues.
Some discomfort may be experienced during a session, but the benefits can be felt immediately. It may only take one session to achieve the desired results, or it may take a few more. A few sessions fairly close together would be the most recommended course of action.
Treating posture pain
Another common cause of back pain can be posture. Massage therapy can bring instant relief to areas of tension brought on by the effects of poor posture. However, this relief will be temporary unless the individual can make the necessary changes needed to minimise the effects of whatever is contributing to their poor posture.
There can be many causes of this such as:
- sitting for long periods of time through having a desk-based job, which can weaken a lower back and cause shoulders to slump forward
- carrying a heavy shoulder bag that can put a strain on the spine so your body compensates and becomes misaligned
- being overweight can mean weak core muscles thus causing the lower back to curve (lordosis) and create lower back pain.
These are all things that can potentially be improved through massage therapy.
For the individual with well-being in mind, monthly massage therapy can be the perfect complement to a healthy diet and regular exercise. As your therapist, I can suggest stretches that can help with particular aches and pains.
‘I booked in to see Cath as I was in pain with my back due to a fall. Cath worked expertly combining a range of wonderful skills and techniques that have helped me move around much more freely and with less pain. I highly recommend Cath, as she is an exceptionally skilled practitioner.‘ – Victoria, Bristol
Shiatsu Oil Massage with Leonie Klein
Find out from Leonie Klein how a Shiatsu and Oil Massage can work together soften and loosen back muscles and release stiffness in the joints, linking mind, body and spirit
It’s a matter of personal preference whether you choose oil massage or Shiatsu for a back problem. Both treatments prove to be very effective.
My deep tissue/holistic massage begins with Shiatsu work through a blanket using pressure points and soothing techniques. I then start the oil massage using a couple of different essential oil blends that help to balance and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Already at this point, I often feel the holding in the muscles and fascia begin to soften and release. I massage deeply into the back, shoulders and neck with an anti-inflammatory oil that helps to soothe and loosen contraction and stiffness in the joints and muscles. Treatments can be booked for 1 hour, 1.5 hrs or 2 hours. Clients report immediate relief and an increased sense of well-being.
How does Shiatsu work for back pain?
My teacher and mentor Keith Phillips described the impact of Shiatsu as:
‘Shiatsu can open you up to often-forgotten and hidden parts of the self, that once reconnected, allow you to feel more vital and whole.’ – Keith Phillips
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the theory underpinning Shiatsu, is founded in the idea that mind, body and spirit are all interconnected. In the Shiatsu approach, the back represents aspects of ourselves that extend beyond musculature, fascia, sinew and bone. When we have pain, such as back ache, our symptoms can be seen as an invitation to both practitioner and receiver to listen in and see what else may be going on. Through working on the physical anatomy of the back we can begin to make connections between the felt sensations in our bodies, our feelings and our experience of life. Often times I have found that the body is waiting to be held or met in a particular way in a particular place. It is in this meeting between practitioner and receiver that a deep transformation can happen. Symptoms can simply resolve.
Impact of Water element
In TCM, the back is governed by the Water element. The Water element relates us to where we come from, our ancestry or our lineage – what is behind us. The feeling is of a long line of ancestors rooting for you and willing you forward and the sense that there is someone at your back. This connection brings with it a deep sense of support from which we can take action in the world. It gives us the will that moves us through life and makes us potent and effective.
The Water element also relates to the nervous system, our sense of survival and along with it the emotion of fear. Fear is necessary for life. When confronted with danger, constructive fear can heighten our awareness, guide us with a message of caution and fill us with a sense of readiness and courage to face whatever situation might present itself. If we are disconnected from the Water element we can feel unsupported or exhausted and become overcome or paralysed by fear or anxiety. This lack of support can show up in the body as weakness in the back, back ache or pains as well as weak wrists and ankles, sore knees or a feeling of stress. Often when stress is present, there is a deep survival fear at work.
Connection to your life
So when we approach the body from a Shiatsu perspective, we see that each person’s pattern of tension or pain is unique and individual and absolutely relevant to their particular life. You could say that your body, in its posture, health and strength or weakness is an expression of your relationship with your life.
When we bring all of these aspects into a treatment on the back, we are not simply aiming to provide relief from stress or getting rid of tension or even offering relaxation, even though these results naturally occur. Shiatsu is a profound opportunity to connect in to what is playing out in our lives and what may be our potential, our inner resource and vital energy. It is through this interaction that spontaneous and deep healing arises.
I would like to finish with another quote by my teacher and mentor Keith Phillips:
‘Our difficulties often contain the seed of their own healing. There is untapped energy in our stress and untouched soul in our exhaustion. To access this, we sometimes need help from another, and Shiatsu offers a way to do this. Where massage releases tension from tissues – Shiatsu restores vitality where it is blocked.’
‘I felt so nourished after every Shiatsu with Leonie. Fully met in my emotional and physical self and provided with the support needed leaving me with a sense of wholeness. My deepest gratitude to you Leonie.’
‘Leonie was recommended to me by a work colleague, her treatments have been a great help in treating the referred pain as a result of osteophytes of the spine. I would highly recommend Leonie as an alternative treatment to what are considered more traditional remedies.’
‘I had one of the most amazing massages with Leonie last week and would highly recommend booking a treatment with her asap. She has the most intuitive touch and knows her craft extremely well. I also loved the combination of Shiatsu and aroma-touch with the added luxury of dootera essential oils. Simply divine! I was in a lot of pain at the time as i’d hurt my back, so the nourishing treatment left me feeling whole again and extremely relaxed. I used to work at a massage centre for many years but have never had a treatment as special as this. Thank you so much Leonie – you are very talented and I will be booking in again very soon!’
See our website for more information about:
- acupuncture with Tiffany Black
- massage therapy with Cath Mowbray
- Shiatsu and massage therapy with Leonie Klein