By Matt Snow, Licensed Massage Therapist serving Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, Wesport CT, Port Chester, Rye Brook, Rye, and White Plains NY

Who hasn’t had low back pain?  At least 80 – 90% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives and it is the number five reason why people see their doctor.  It was thought at one time that most back pain stemmed from structural problems such as herniated disc but now soft tissue disorders are considered to be the most prominent cause of low back pain.  One of the reasons low back pain is so common is because it is an area that allows for a great deal of movement but also has the responsibility to bear the weight of our upper body and absorb force from the lower body.  Not only that but it is comprised of many bones and many ligaments, muscles, and connective tissue help to provide stability for the low back.  That is why soft tissue is responsible for many low back pain conditions because they have a tremendous responsibility to help allow movement and provide stability to the spine and pelvis.

Low back pain conditions respond very well to Massage Therapy because massage can treat soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, and tendons.) Different types of soft tissue pain are:

  • Strain:  A muscle strain is tearing of muscle fibers and occurs when the muscle is overstretched and there are different levels of strain. A grade 1 muscle strain is damage to only a few fibers, a grade 2 strain more fibers are torn, and a grade 3 strain is when the muscle is completely torn.  A grade 3 strain is the most serious and will need surgery to reattach the muscle.  Strains will typically be painful with movement, may have dull pain, or sharp pain.  Massage is very useful for strains as it can help healthy scar formation, help prevent scar tissue build up from binding  other structures together, and reduce muscle tension.


  • Trigger Points and Muscle Hypertonicity:  Trigger points are the medical name for a muscle knot and is a dysfunction in the muscle fibers.  Hypertonicity refers to muscle tightness and occurs from excessive neurological input from the brain.  Trigger points are a fascinating phenomenon as they can produce many different pain sensations and often mimic symptoms of nerve pain, like sciatica, and are often overlooked as a source of pain and misdiagnosed.  Muscle tightness can restrict movement and tight muscles are more prone to muscle strain because they are not able to lengthen as well.  Massage helps trigger points by bringing fresh blood to the trigger point and flushing out cell waste that gets trapped in the area. Muscle tightness can be helped through stretching and helps decrease excessive nuerological tone and lengthen the muscle.


  •  Ligament sprain:  Sprains are tears to the ligaments and are graded in severity similar to muscle strains.  Once the ligament is damaged it does not heal well because it does not have a good blood supply.  Massage to the ligaments can help the ligament heal better but massage to the ligaments in the low back is difficult because they are so deep. Massage can help pain from sprains by helping pain and spasm of the muscle tissue that results from the damaged ligament.

There are other low back conditions that are structural pain conditions that can be helped with massage but  because they are structural and involve the joint, they may need to be evaluated and supervised by a doctor. Close communication between the doctor and massage therapist can have a positive effect on these conditions.

Conditions That Need Evaluation from a Doctor

Herniated Disc:  A herniated or bulging disc is when the disc presses on the nerve root.  There are different levels of severity and this is why it is important to have your massage therapist communicate with your doctor.  The massage therapist needs to know and understand the level of disc degeneration and state of the joint as  arthritis can be associated with this problem as well.  Massage can be helpful by reducing tension in the muscles around the joints and thereby reducing compressive loads on the disc. 

Spinal Stenosis:  This condition is when the spinal canal starts to narrow.  Bone spurs develop in the joint and narrow the space where the spinal nerves exit.  Massage can help by reducing tension in the muscles around the joint.

Spondylosis/Spondylothesis: These conditions involve stress fractures in a structure called the pars interarticularis.  Sometimes this structure breaks and the vertebrae slips forward off the spine and this is called spondylothesis. Massage can also help by reducing tension in the muscles around the joints.

These conditions can be serious but usually once they are under the care of a doctor massage can provide relief from these conditions as the muscles are usually under tension and stress because of the underlying structural conditions.

The muscles and soft tissue of the low back help to move and stabilize our spines through many complex movements. Massage is an excellent way to prevent pain and to help resolve pain conditions when they do occur.

I hope this article was helpful.  If you would like more information or would like to schedule an appointment please call (203) 660 -0584 or email at