The twenty-four intervertebral discs that run down the spine serve a dual purpose. Primarily, they separate the vertebrae from one another during impact, effectively acting as shock absorbers for the spinal column. They also protect the 31 nerves that run down the spine and serve important sensory, motor and autonomic functions.
An intervertebral disc injury can lead to anything from minor pain to severe discomfort depending on its severity. While the pain can sometimes be managed and the disc can heal itself with time, herniated disc injuries often require surgery, which can result in a difficult recovery period, with many patients taking a number of months to regain full mobility.
While massage therapy in itself cannot cure herniated discs, it can play a vital role in pain management, as well as aiding the recovery process and helping to prevent long-term damage.
Vertebral discs are made up of a gel-like substance known as the nucleus pulposus, which is encased in a series of collagen-fibrocartilage layers known as the annulus fibrosis. While this protective casement is built to withstand quite a bit of impact, it can become damaged, with vertebral disc issues ranging from mild degeneration to more severe cases of bulging or herniated discs.
Some of the most common causes of vertebral disc injuries that massage college students may encounter are
When dealing with patients with vertebral disc injuries, it’s important to exercise caution. Placing pressure directly on a damaged disc is contraindicated as it may aggravate symptoms. Massage therapists will generally look to work around the damaged area, usually moving more slowly than normal and being vigilant for signs of discomfort or agitation from the patient. If a patient is undergoing or has been recommended for surgery, the RMT should advise the patient to consult with their physician prior to any massage.
When seeking to help patients with disc injuries manage pain, professionals with massage therapy training usually opt for soft tissue techniques such as Swedish massage. Applying light effleurage and petrissage strokes can help loosen surrounding muscle tissue, and increase circulation in the damaged area. This can also serve to stretch out shortened muscles, reducing the risk of long-term problems.
While caution must be taken with pre-operative patients, some research has shown that massage therapy can be particularly beneficial to patients in recovery from spinal fusion and decompression surgery. A 2012 case report was published by Glenda Keller RMT, BPHE, in the Integrated Journal of Therapeutic Massage Bodywork involving a 47-year old female who had undergone surgery as a result of chronic disc herniations.
The patient underwent seven thirty-minute sessions incorporating Swedish massage and myosfascial release over the courses of eight weeks. At the end of the treatment, she had shown significant improvement in hamstring length from pre-treatment measurements, as well as a 14% improvement on the Oswestry Disability Index from 50% to 36%.
The study also indicated some short-term pain relief after each session, with a 2 point reduction on the VAS pain scale after most treatments, with the patient recording a post-treatment score of zero after three of the seven sessions.
Massage Therapy College graduates are able to alleviate many symptoms associated with vertebral disc injuries which may provide a faster and healthier recovery for patients .
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