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Massage for Upper Back Pain

Who doesn't like a good back massage? If you are looking for relief from back pain, massage may be the answer. Daily activities like sitting at a desk or carrying things can strain the back muscles and cause pain. Many people suffer from back pain. Massage can help.

Back massage is the cornerstone of relaxation massage and is an important part of therapeutic massage. When I was in massage school, our back sequence accounted for more than 50% of a full-body massage. Some people readily give up having other parts of their body massaged to get more time spent on their back. A back massage will release tightness that causes pain and discomfort. A good upper back massage can make a huge difference in how you feel and move. It can also alleviate pain throughout the upper body.

Back muscles host many trigger points, small irritable spots in the muscles. Trigger points cause referred pain. That means that when a trigger point is active the pain may be felt quite a long distance away. An active trigger point between the shoulder blades, for example, may cause pain in the neck near the base of the skull. An active trigger point in the mid back can cause pain in the hip. The referred pain patterns are so broad that trigger points in the back can be responsible for pain from the top of the head to the hip and buttocks and down the arms to the hands.

That is why massage therapy is so beneficial for upper body pain. Therapeutic massage can treat many problems with the muscles in the back that cause pain in the entire upper body.


Think of all the ways you can twist, turn, and move your torso. This flexibility is possible because of layers of muscles that run in different directions. This allows the muscles to create movement in many directions at once.

Here are the major back muscles in the first four layers:

On top we have two broad, flat muscles: the latissimus dorsi and the trapezius.

Peel them away and the next layer of muscles include the rhomboids, the big muscles that connect the shoulder blades to the spine. This layer also includes the infraspinatus and teres major, two of the muscles involved in shoulder movement.

In the third layer you have the levator scapulae, running from the top inside of the shoulder blade to the vertebrae in the neck. The serratus posterior muscles go crosswise between the shoulder blades.

Finally, deep in the back, next to the spine, are the erector spinae These thick cords of muscle go from the pelvis all the way up to the base of the skull.

It is easy to see how this complexity can lead to many problems. A strained muscle or active trigger point can cause an annoyingly painful condition.

Unless you are lying flat on your back, it is virtually impossible not to use your back muscles to maintain your posture. The muscles do not get time off to relax and recover. Back pain tends to linger and injuries to back muscles can take a long time to heal.

Back Massage for Relaxation

A good back massage is a great way to relax. The wide expanse of skin allows the massage therapist to use broad, flowing strokes to create a state of relaxation. Most people are comfortable having their back touched and are able to fully relax and enjoy the massage. About half of the people I get on my table fall asleep while I massage their back. If you’re stressed out and need to relax, a back massage is a great way to help yourself feel better.

Massage Therapy for Back Pain

Upper back massage targets muscles from the bottom of the shoulder blades to the base of the skull.

Self-massage for back pain is hard to do because you have to use those muscles to maintain your position. Lying face down on the massage table, however, allows you to completely relax and let the massage therapist do the work.

A back massage starts with long strokes called effleurage. Effleurage starts at the neck and continues all the way down the center of the back returning by flowing up the sides. It feels great and allows the therapist to feel for tight or tender spots.

After the muscles are warmed up, deep tissue massage techniques like cross-fiber friction target specific parts of a muscle. The therapist can pinpoint trigger points and areas of tightness to relieve pain. Using targeted pressure along the edge of the scapulae is very effective in releasing tight muscles.

Therapeutic back massage is best when you actively participate by guiding the massage therapist to the problem spots. Sometimes when the therapist presses on a trigger point or tender spot, you will feel direct or referred pain, but the therapist will not feel a change. Sometimes the therapist will feel a tight spot in the muscle that does not cause you to feel pain. What you feel is all that matters. You should tell the therapist when you feel an increase in pain or when you feel referred pain in a distant location. Communication increases the effectiveness of the massage and allows you to get the best results.

If you have back or shoulder pain, massage may help you find relief. Make an appointment today.