Getting the Right Massage for Low Back Pain

Massage therapy can provide substantial healing and pain relief for people suffering from low back pain caused by muscle tension and strain, if the correct muscles are targeted.

I asked certified massage therapist Kate Fish, who works at in a chiropractor's office, to explain how she helps heal her clients' pain with massage.

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She explained that isolating and rejuvenating the main back muscles that can have the biggest effect on low back pain caused by stressed muscles.

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Kate stresses that two important muscles, the quadratus lumborum (QL) and the gluteus medius, may play a bigger role in causing pain than most people realize, saying, "If you strain either of these muscles, the pain can be severe and debilitating.

Dysfunction in these muscles (the QL and the gluteus medius) can lead to severe and debilitating low back pain." Tweet this to share on Twitter.

Kate recommends that you specifically ask your massage therapist to spend 60 minutes on these two muscles.

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1. Quadratus lumborum (QL) muscle massage

Ask your therapist to massage the QL muscle while you lie on your side for 20 minutes on each side (40 minutes total).

The QL muscle, which connects the last rib to the pelvis, is responsible for pelvic stability and structural alignment. It is a common source of low back pain.

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The muscle can become irritated when the lower body is engaged while the upper body is still. For example, activities that could irritate the QL muscle are:

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  • Lifting that requires leaning over something (such as getting groceries out of a trunk)
  • Leaning over a sink while doing dishes
  • Sitting slumped in a chair
  • Running on uneven pavement

Sharp, stabbing pain, urgent pain in the low back is a symptom of a hypertonic (tight) QL.

This muscle must be stretched and massaged simultaneously by your therapist in order to reduce lower back pain. Typically, clients can get relief by combining treatment of the QL muscle with 20 minutes of massage on the gluteus medias.

Back Strains and Sprains Video

2. Gluteus medius massage

After working on the QL muscle, ask your therapist to focus on the gluteus medius for 20 minutes.

The gluteus medius is a posterior hip (or buttocks) muscle that frequently causes pain when the QL muscle is irritated. The gluteus medius becomes inflamed as it tries to compensate for the QL’s dysfunction. Your massage therapist should focus on simultaneously stretching and massaging the gluteus medius as you lie on your stomach.

Kate has been able to provide significant pain relief to numerous clients by using these massage techniques in only one session. She recalls,

"One of my clients had experienced severe low back pain for 3 months. After his doctor ordered an MRI, he was worried he would have to have surgery. He visited the chiropractor where I worked as a massage therapist, and I assessed that his QL was ischemic (so tight that the blood supply got cut off). Working on these specific muscles, I loosened them and increased their blood flow, and the client was pain-free after one session."

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Most likely, your massage therapist is well-versed in the muscles that cause back pain, but don’t hesitate to speak up and specifically request this type of massage if you suspect your pain is due to muscle dysfunction.

This article originally appeared on and was written by Allison Walsh.