CMT: A Whole Body Approach to Low Back Pain

CMT: A Whole Body Approach to Low Back Pain

Low back pain affects one out of every seven people in the United States. Traditionally, pain management has focused on drug therapy and surgery. But these therapies are not always effective for the 60-90% of low back pain problems that are stress or work-related. According to a recent study, massage, practiced for centuries as a healing therapy, may offer some hope. Practitioners of massage therapy believe it alleviates pain by affecting changes in the musculoskeletal, circulatory, and nervous systems.

In a Canadian study of massage for low back pain, researchers found that 63% of those receiving Comprehensive Massage Therapy (CMT) from experienced registered massage therapists reported no pain after just two months of treatment. CMT uses a variety of massage techniques in combination with exercise, and it may offer those who suffer from certain forms of low back pain an alternative to drug therapy or surgery. The treatment in the Canadian study included:

  • Massage - Applying a variety of manual techniques such as friction, stroking, and kneading of muscles, to trigger points (tender areas where muscles have been damaged) along the soft tissue structures of the body.
  • Remedial Exercise - 30 second sustained stretches in pain-free range plus some mobility exercises such as walking.
  • Postural education, which includes individualized lessons on body mechanics at work and during daily activities.

If you are suffering from low back pain and wish to try massage as a treatment option, you should know that there are many kinds of massage. Your doctor may be able to help you identify the kinds that will be most helpful to you. Below is a glossary of some of the more popular techniques:

Lymphatic Massage - Therapists use a light pulsing touch along lymph vessels in order to stimulate lymph circulation, which helps the body eliminate toxins.

Tui na is a form of deep tissue massage and manipulation, originating in China, used to treat arthritic and rheumatic pains. It also purports to restore weak or damaged nerves and tone the spine and acupuncture points adjacent to it.

Shiatsu, a Japanese massage technique, uses gentle finger and hand pressure to adjust the body's structure and energetic balance.

Rolfing - Pressure is applied to the fascia (connective tissues between layers of muscle) to stretch and lengthen it to make it more flexible. Rolfing seeks to realign the body so that it conserves energy, releases tension, and functions better.

Myofascial Release - Gentle stroking and stretching of the fascia helps the patient achieve postural changes and better body alignment.

Trigger point and Myotherapy - Pressure is applied to tender areas in order to increase blood flow and soothe spasms.

Suggested Resources

For more information on massage therapists, you and your doctor may wish to contact:

American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA);

American Oriental Bodywork Therapy Association. Tel. 609/782-1616.

The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration;


Biggos S. Acute low back problems in adults. AHCPR Publication #95-0642. December, 1994

Cottingham JT, Maitland J. A three-paradigm treatment model using soft tissue mobilization and guided movement awareness techniques for patients with chronic back pain: a case study. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1997;26(3); 155-167.

Preyde M. Effectiveness of massage therapy for subacute low-back pain: a randomized control trial. CMAJ. 2000; 162(13);1815-1820.

Weintraub M. Shiatsu, Swedish muscle massage, and trigger point suppression in spinal pain syndrome. Massage Therapy Journal. 1992-99-108.

Review Date: October 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

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