In the United States, 8 out of every 10 people will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. It’s a common problem, so common in fact that a mountain of treatments have been developed to help alleviate the pain. Here, we share a comprehensive look at noninvasive treatment options for low back pain.
Pain medications come in all shapes and sizes. But all share two things in common: they help provide some level of pain relief and they are implicated in a range of side effects. Side effects from pain medications are unpleasant and can even significantly weigh down a patient’s quality of life. Research in alternative treatments like traditional Thai massage shows a potential alternate route to pain management—without the side effects.
Changing pain management dogma
Medication side effects are a significant limiting factor in pain management. A long-term study following patients with chronic pain shows that side effects management is crucial. In fact, managing the side effects from pain medication is more important because those same side effects negatively impact patients’ perception of pain. Ultimately, pain management seeks to improve patient quality of life, but if those same medications are inducing side effects so unpleasant that the perception of pain does not improve, then something in the treatment plan must be altered.
Recently, therapy techniques like traditional Thai massage have been shown to be effective vectors to pain relief on par with—and sometimes better than—over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. Why is this significant? For starters, physical therapy is not associated with many negative side effects. That means patients with chronic pain using traditional Thai massage for minor pain relief can potentially enjoy a higher quality of life than those who rely on a host of pain management medications. By delivering a minor dose of pain relief without having to endure a list of side effects, patients can potentially self-report being in less pain than those who continue with their original treatment regimen.
How does traditional Thai massage work?
Traditional Thai massage is classified as a type of soft tissue manipulation. Here, a practitioner physically stimulates portions of the body to help promote pain relief. Pain relief is derived by stimulating blood circulation and nerve endings, resulting in reflexive effects that reduce muscle contraction and hardness. It is a mechanism differing from the pharmacological effects of drugs. Much of the benefits of traditional Thai massage comes from compression. By applying pressure on muscle fibers, practitioners enhance the circulation of arterial blood to the massage area. The improved circulation also helps remove toxins from the affected areas through venous blood. Together, patients enjoy reduced muscle stiffness and tension as well as improved motion and flexibility.
The bottom line?
When it comes to treating pain, patients want the best treatment options available. Unfortunately, not all pain management options work for everyone. Furthermore, existing approaches do not work across all demographics. To further complicate matters, pharmaceuticals that do reduce pain often come with a host of side effects. These side effects negatively impact a patient’s quality of life beyond the relief provided by the medication. For some patients, traditional Thai massage can be an effective alternate form of pain management. Moderate pain relief with few associated side effects.
Have you had to deal with hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and musculoskeletal pain at the same time? These are some of the many symptoms affecting women during menopause. Together, they tend to negatively impact the social, psychological, and sexual lives of women. There are also physical consequences of menopause, like increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Though there is no getting around this stage of life, there are ways to help with the transition. Traditional physical exercise and other mind-body techniques have recently entered the spotlight, with one study showing Rusie Dutton, a traditional Thai exercise, as an effective tool for women with menopause.
What is Rusie Dutton?
Rusie Dutton is a traditional exercise that originated in Thailand about 200 years ago and is characterized by slow, purposeful movements that emphasize stretching and twisting the body in ways that exert force in underutilized muscle groups. Numerous studies have been published showing how Rusie Dutton improves flexibility and cardiorespiratory function as well as stress and muscle pain reduction in users. The exercise has also recently been shown to benefit menopausal women, offering an alternative route to reduce some of the symptoms associated with menopause.
How does it work?
Each Rusie Dutton class took place from 7.30 to 9.00 a.m. in a community center, with the first 40 min spent on a question-and- answer period about home practice and health problems followed by deep breathing exercises. The next 50 min were spent doing muscle stretching (5 min), practice of the postures of Rusie Dutton (40 min) and deep breathing and stretching (5 min). The practice session started with easy postures followed by more difficult ones until all 16 postures were covered. Participants were encouraged to extend, stretch or twist the limbs and body part as much as they could but not to the point of pain.
The results? According to the study, Rusie Dutton participants at the end of the observational period were found to have decreased body weight, body mass index, resting heart rate and blood pressure, increased muscle and joint flexibility, improved cardiorespiratory fitness, and improvement in quality of life with fewer menopause symptoms consisting of vasomotor, physical, psychosocial, and sexual symptoms.
The participants were also found to have benefited from elements found in other mind-body exercises, thanks to Rusie Dutton’s gentle movements, controlled breathing, and meditation—offering relief from anxiety, depression, and insomnia. A final highlight from the study about Rusie Dutton was its ease of practice, “[Rusie Dutton] is not limited to a particular population because all practitioners can find postures appropriate for themselves, it can be done in sitting position and takes less than 10 min to practice so can be done at work to release muscle stress and fight fatigue.”
Assisting those unable to assist themselves
Unfortunately, menopause and its symptoms can last longer than a decade, affecting women well advanced in years. For these women, and those who are recovering from an injury, even a 10-minute session of physical activity can be challenging. A solution adopted by Chaan Thai and other traditional Thai massage centers has been to incorporate Rusie Dutton techniques into the massage therapy itself—combining the benefits of multiple techniques.
Rather than do all the movements themselves, the participant is encouraged to instead focus on their breathing and meditation technique while the massage therapist performs the Rusie Dutton movements for them. This form of exercise is especially beneficial for those recovering from an injury or those with little flexibility and strength to do the movements themselves. The approach combines the practical benefits of a physical therapy session with all the rest and relaxation benefits of a massage and mind-body therapy session.
During the high spirits of the holiday season surrounded by friends and family, we often set lofty goals for ourselves to start the new year. Goals that are eventually abandoned due to a combination of habit, injury, and stress. Here are three ways to help you achieve those New Year’s resolutions, one of which is getting a Thai massage!
Breaking new habits
Losing weight is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s the result of guilt from overeating or simply a determination to look different the next time around, the fact remains that it is also one of the most failed resolutions. Losing weight relies on the interplay of exercise and healthy eating, the latter representing the most important factor in weight loss. Unfortunately, it is easy to derail from healthy eating plans. A 2014 PLOS ONE study shows that “Despite resolutions to eat more healthfully after New Year’s, consumers may adjust to a new ‘status quo’ of increased less-healthy food purchasing during the holidays…” The authors offer a relatively simple solution: be mindful in substituting healthy items for less-healthy items and set goals based on pre-holiday grocery patterns.
Resting in between workouts
Working out goes hand-in-hand with weight loss as a common New Year’s resolution, and many of us actually follow through on this resolution during the first few weeks of the new year. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the seasonal demands for gym memberships, our attendance tapers off over the course of the year. One of the biggest contributors to abandoned gym memberships is an exercise-related injury. Most of us ignore or forget to schedule an appointment with our doctor (looking for a doctor in Herndon, VA?) to ensure we aren’t putting undue stress on our bodies. Your doctor will help you reduce the chance of injury by working with you to set moderate exercise goals and ensure you set aside enough rest in between workout days. Building in improved recovery measures with massage is another way. As we wrote late last year, Thai massage therapy has been used by sports players for years, with traditional Thai massage a favored technique for soccer players in Thailand. The study demonstrated improved recovery and fitness metrics across the board for the test group, with the authors postulating that the massage helped by improving flexibility and blood flow.
Relaxation for renewed focus
In our era of the Internet and technology, there is an ever-growing list of distractions out there acting as roadblocks to our New Year’s resolutions. Our hyper-connected society keeps us moving at a breakneck pace and makes it easy to lose track of time that we have otherwise earmarked for important tasks like cooking, cleaning, exercise, and work. Though this could be a time management problem, stress is a heavy contributor. Take a break from your busy day to relax and treat yourself to activities that both relax and get you offline. A Thai massage can be the perfect combination of both.
Your New Year’s resolutions are important, don’t give up on them. Taking on holiday habits, an injury, and stress stops many of us along the way, but it doesn’t have to. Massage those resolutions back into shape.
The very appearance of a hot stone massages makes it synonymous with rest and relaxation. And for good reason. Quickly recognizable by the assortment of basalt used during the session, the smooth black volcanic rocks are integral to the massage and are heated before being pressed against a person’s back with either a Swedish or traditional Thai technique. The hot temperature provides temporary pain relief while the massage technique improves blood circulation and flexibility. The experience has been beneficial for many and is used widely as a form of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM).
The strategic use of temperature as a remedy has been used for centuries, with heat and cold carefully applied to relieve pain and inflammation as a result of burns, wounds, joint pain, sore throats, and more. The differences between remedies have come down to application method. Some treatments apply heat to a drink like tea to help relieve a sore throat while others use an ice bag to soothe a burn. Hot stone massage is a unique form of application that uses the stone’s innate heat absorption properties in order to evenly distribute heat to specific areas on the body. Most hot stone massages rely on stones that are heated to between 120 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit in a hot water bath before being strategically placed.
While some home remedies are promoted with the help of anecdotal evidence, both heat and massage therapy have a growing history of clinical research supporting its benefits. Heat, for instance, has been shown to have analgesic effects on the body, providing temporary pain relief for those suffering from ailments like rheumatoid arthritis. Meanwhile, the use of massage therapy has been shown to help improve flexibility and range of motion, which is especially useful in promoting long-term relief and can have an enormous impact on a person’s quality of life.
The combination of traditional Thai massage with hot stones can be of particular use to those who are experiencing pain from a sports-related injury or are looking to gain a physical fitness edge. As we described in a previous article, Thai massage has been used by sports players as a way to improve recovery times after an intense training session. In fact, participants in one study showed improved results in tests measuring sit and reach, agility, and 50-meter sprints. By combining principles, massage therapists can add the analgesic benefits of hot stones to the rest and relaxation benefits of traditional Thai massage.
The result is an unmatched experience of rest, relaxation, relief, and recovery.
To try a hot stone massage that uses traditional Thai massage techniques, consider booking an appointment at Chaan Thai Massage if you are near Herndon or Fairfax, Virginia.
Curković B. et al., Zeitschrift fur Rheumatologie 52(5):289 (1993).
Hongsuwan C. et al., J. Phys. Ther. Sci. 27(2):505 (2015).
Traditional Thai massage exists in many forms and one ancillary technique developed from this practice uses herbal compresses or “Luk Prakob,” which has existed in Thailand for hundreds of years. The Thai herbal compress is purported to leverage a heat compress in conjunction with specially selected herbs to combine the benefits of applied heat (to improve blood flow), herbal ingredients (as anti-inflammatory agents), and aroma (to induce relaxation) to give a unique treatment that relieves muscle sprains and joint pain.
A systemic review of the Thai herbal compress was published earlier this year in order to test the efficacy of the technique and determine the full extent of its clinical effect. The authors of the article were able to conclude that the heat application from the herbal compress bestowed the majority of the benefit, with the herbal benefit depending largely on the type of herb used, the preparation, and the purpose. For instance, the consumption of some herbs like turmeric extract is known to be as effective as ibuprofen for treating knee osteoarthritis.
While the efficacy of the topical application of these herbs is still being studied, the authors concluded that the Thai herbal compress could be considered as an alternative treatment option to alleviate certain symptoms from osteoarthritis, muscle pain, and as a treatment of choice to induce lactation. They were also keen on the benefit of the Thai herbal compress for those who need to avoid potential adverse effects of contemporary treatments that use NSAIDs.
Thai herbal compresses are approved and listed on Thailand’s National List of Essential Medicines and are provided for therapeutic and rehabilitative purposes in most of the country’s public health service facilities. For the future, the authors recommended further study on the herbal benefit in addition to streamlining the herbal component through standardization and good manufacturing practices in order to better quantify its effects in studies.
Until then, the Thai herbal compress is a form of integrative and complementary medicine in the United States that is practiced by traditional massage therapists and in centers for complementary medicine.
If you are in the Fairfax, Virginia area, come by one of our Chaan Thai Massage locations to try a Thai herbal compress for yourself, a perfect repose for this chilly winter weather!
Dhippayom T. et al., Evid. Based Complement. Alternat. Med. 942378 (2015). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377500/.
For most individuals, nutrition is about maintaining a healthy body weight while also ensuring the body has all the vitamins and minerals it needs to function. At the most basic level, maintaining body function is a matter of balancing energy needs with energy use. The energy content of our food is measured by calories and the three major sources of calories are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Energy needs vary between individuals, especially between those who are very active, but most adults should be aiming to consume about 2,000 to 2,500 calories each day.
Thanksgiving is around the corner. Here are some tips oh eating healthy to enjoy the festivities without losing sight of your health goals.
Chaan Thai Massage is pleased to announce the opening of our second location at Herndon, Virginia. The support and patronage of you and thousands of other guests throughout the years has prepared us to move forward into the next chapter of our story. Book an appointment in November to enjoy our Grand Opening Promotion.
Simply enter GRAND60 during checkout (Herndon, VA location only) for 60-minute sessions of Thai Massage, Foot Massage, Anti-Stress Massage, and Head Back Shoulder Massage to enjoy a discount.
Having announced its official opening mid-2015, the University of Virginia (UVA) Health System’s Primary and Specialty Care for Integrative Medicine at Pantops follows a growing trend in medicine that brings complementary medicine and conventional medicine together in order to solve a long-standing healthcare issue.