Lumbar Disc Bulge

Someone wrote me asking about a lumbar herniation or bulge. I decided to answer that message in blog format so I can share this info with everyone.

Here’s a basic anatomy lesson on the spine.

Think of a disc like a chocolate candy. It’s got a chocolate coating then a gooey center. When the chocolate coating wears away, tears, ruptures or breaks it allows the gooey center to push backwards onto a nerve. Ow! Lumbar bulges are particularly frustrating because of the pressure of everything above the bulge pressing down due to gravity. What you’re dealing with is a tear, rupture or overly stretched annulus. The nucleus then pushes out, extrudes and generally causes mayhem and makes you wish you walked on all fours again and didn’t fight gravity.

So the annulus is the chocolatey shell, the nucleus is the gooey center. We can talk surgery, chiropractic, massage til we’re blue in the face but I’ll give you the brief run down of how you help a bulge. You decompress then you backbend.

Decompress means you’re taking the pressure off. Think about unloading a ton of bricks from your truck. Hey, the shocks stretch out. Long term that’s good for your shocks and good for your lumbar discs which perform some of the same function anatomically. After you’ve decompressed you backbend. When you backbend keep in mind that slouching forward then sitting up is a backbend. Slow, gentle, timed, breathing, maybe only for 5 minutes on a foam roll or ma roller is backbending.


Why backbend? Well the disc causes problems when it bulges usually to the rear. This happens due to spine anatomy and the fact that most of our lives we spend our time leaning forward. If you put all the bricks in the back of the truck is it going to bother the front shocks? Bodies aren’t that different mechanically. You essentially spend your life stretching and pushing the gooey center back. When it finally tears or breaks you’re a in a world of pain.

So why backbend? Temporarily it’s uncomfortable. It actually can irritate in the short term because well, you’ve already got inflammation and irritation there and you’re pushing on it. Long term, over the course of a lifetime it takes the pressure off the back of the chocolate shell and opens up the front of the disc. Guess what happens when you backbend? You push the gooey center forward! You maintain spine balance and have good shocks for a lifetime.

So, the general answer to back pain is to backbend. Bad posture leads to problems muscularly and to deeper structures like discs. If you already have a bulge or herniation you push the disc forward and guess what happens? It reabsorbs, doesn’t put pressure on a nerve, lessens irritation and inflammation and then, what pain? I’m better.

Let me give you another example so you understand what we’re dealing with. Let’s say you backbend like crazy and rupture a disc to the front. Guess what happens? Usually nothing. Why? Because there’s no gooey center pressing on a nerve. The nerve is posterior and you pushed the bulge out into the front. Isn’t anatomy fun?

Always consult your doctor, surgeon, for medical advice. I’m just a massage therapist providing some information. My choice to decompress and backbend my spine is yoga. I’ve done Bikram yoga for 8 years. What does it do? It decompresses my spine, backbends me and in addition forces blood and circulation around those tough spots so they can heal.

Take your time, go slow, breathe, decompress and backbend. It’s a recipe for health.

Low Back Pain

Low back pain is one of the areas that Thai massage excels at providing relief. In my 11 years experience nothing provides such consistent results other than a regular yoga practice, fortunately I do both.

The complex interplay between hips, pelvic bowl, sacrum, lumbar spine and all the musculature involded means it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what every back pain in the area comes from. The psoas is often involved from being shortened and the hamstrings often pull the lumbar spine towards flat back. Long term these are bad, in the short term you feel stiff and immobile.

I started using the Ma roller in a more advanced way to help clients help themselves at home. Thai massage has me doing these sacral movements and stretches for you but the Ma roller allows you to work on yourself. Notice the lumbar flexion or flat back then the lumbar extension or temporary lordosis we create. You’re stretching and pressing into some of the deeper structures at the base of your spine and if you’re like most of my clients, your back pain will get better.

Go slow, breathe and keep moving. I’ll see you soon for a Thai massage session or class.

Thai Massage Is More Effective For Low Back Pain

Thai massage is more effective for low back pain. Of all the things I’ve used nothing else comes close. I can go into explanations but come get a session and find out. Here I have another discussion with Tyrone Chuang about Thai massage and some of the differences between it and deep tissue or swedish massage.

Long term as a teacher I try to give students more tools. My goal is to help educate and refine students options so they have longer more lucrative careers in massage and bodywork while helping their clients. Metta <3

Relief For Lower Back Pain

Relief for lower back pain is something many are looking for. In all honesty I can do little for low back pain on a table massage. Thai massage allows me to give you real relief for lower back pain by allowing me to access the structures that are causing it to begin with.

This video shows a piriformis stretch you can do in a chair to help you see how the gluteals affect the lumbar spine.

The problem often goes deeper into the hips and pelvis than most realize and the psoas in particular is so tight and restricted it allows little of the fluid movements we had as children. Release the musculature, allow normal contraction and relaxation and whoila, pain goes away. People look at me like it’s magic but it’s not. Thai massage is just common sense. Don’t waste your time going to a spa, they don’t offer Thai massage…yet.

Low Back Pain

Thai massage is the best bodywork for dealing with low back pain in my experience. I spent years doing table work to little effect on low back issues but when I learned Thai massage and started using it, low back pain clients glommed onto me in a way that I found puzzling at first. I didn’t realize exactly why it made such a difference but over time it became clear.

People usually feel pain right in the center of their low back, some describe it as a band across the low back and others often describe feeling pain running down their legs they call sciatica. Where they point to, isn’t where the problem is. That is why Thai massage is so effective in dealing with low back pain, it goes to the source.

The source of most low back pain comes from the hamstrings, the glutes and the pelvic bowl in my experience. What is Thai massage really great at accessing? All of those just listed. I’ve seen it so many times there’s a pattern that is ingrained in the way I look at posture.

The video shows a simple way of stretching your hamstrings while in an chair at your office. It’s a good start but long term, get regular Thai massage and start taking yoga classes. Trust me, I’ve learned a lot in the past 11 or so years.

Thai massage for hips

Clients continually seem amazed that we’re able to ferret out what’s going on with their bodies and make them feel better quickly. In even a short 30 minute session I can usually go a long way to making them feel better and further than that, educate them on how to prevent it from happening in the future.

Low back pain is almost always coming from the hips and pelvic bowl. In my clinical experience most times when someone points to their lumbar vertebrae they’re having issues below, in their pelvic bowl and in the muscular attachments around the pelvic bowl. I’ll soften the muscles around the area, mobilize and stretch them and when clients stand up they’re amazed that the pain is gone or at least lessened.

Massage therapists who are learning Thai massage are changing how bodywork, massage and our profession works in Austin, Texas. I told recent students that they can come in as a licensed massage therapist and leave a healer. That’s a big jump but I stand by my words. You can get CEU’s through the state of Texas taking my classes but we’re more than massage therapists, we’re trying to help people heal. We do that with Thai massage and a heavy dose of educating clients so they can help themselves.

Don’t short change yourself. You deserve to feel better and so do clients. I teach, share and give away this work because I must. No one should suffer needlessly. Try these stretches out on friends. I’ll see you soon.

Ma Roller for back pain pt.4

This is the last video in our series on low back pain and we include a deep hamstring stretch. People with low back pain can find huge relief from doing this regularly. Share with your friends and loved ones.

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It’s better than this?

A client I worked with recently had low back pain. As usual I had him lay down on the table and performed Thai massage on him. Having never had a massage before the client didn’t know what to expect, he just wanted help with his low back.

As we went along the client commented on how much better it felt already. I explained to him briefly how tight muscles cause pain. If I have him curl a dumbell and hold it for ten minutes he’ll report that his arm hurts. Same thing holds for your back. If muscles contract or stretch and stay that way without relief, pain is the result. If we get them to relax, your nervous system sighs in relief.

He told me he wished he could just stay this way. If he could only figure out how to remain like this he’d be fine. I told him he could, it’s called yoga. He said, “It’s better than this? Are you sure?” I laughed and explained to him that the very same things we’re doing together, he can do on his own. His advantage is that he can push himself right up to his edge, then breathe into it for a better stretch. The other is that he can take it with him wherever he goes. Once he’s learned yoga, he can use it whenever he wants.

He would be a non-traditional student. I’d guess he’s in his 60’s and he’s concerned about his health as he ages. He’s not limber, flexible or young. He’s certainly not a south Austin 25 year old hipster. He is however a perfect candidate for yoga. He’s human and smart enough to listen to how his body feels. His body feels better after Thai massage and his body will respond just as well to yoga. If he’s smart enough to follow his instincts his chocolate just might fall into his peanut butter. Chocolate is Thai massage and yoga is peanut butter, they belong together.

These healing traditions are for everyone. They can allow you to live a life you’ve only imagined.

Older age doesn’t mean decay and suffering, it means older age. No judgements. If you work with your body your physical form is maintained and you can be more healthy and more vibrant than you were at 20. You’ll certainly have more wisdom. He asked me why no one had told him about this Thai massage or yoga before, he’s had back pain for 15 years. I told him no one is sticking a camera in my face to let me tell people.

After finding a copy of Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar he expressed great optimism about aging. Iyengar is in his 90’s and though mostly retired from teaching he has an active practice. My client having a model for old age and living well made him even more optimistic about his life. After all, he’s got another 30 years to explore what he’s just found.

He recounted that he’s borderline diabetic but his blood sugar has stabilized. He’s not changed anything in his diet. When he asks me why I say, “no idea.” I smile and we continue exploring whatever it is we’re both doing that makes us feel so much better. This is the healing path.

Ma Roller for back pain pt.3

This is the 3rd installment in our series of easing back pain with the Ma roller. I know these videos seem simple but this is deep tissue massage you can do at home. A single investment in this tool and a little time will ease lots of tension in muscles related to posture.

If you’re a massage therapist share these videos with your clients.

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Ma roller for back pain pt.1

The Ma roller is the best tool I’ve found for working with tight muscles in your back. These often cause back pain and nothing is as consistent in easing this muscle tension as this simple tool. Follow along with this video and go slow. This is part 1 of a 4 part series of techniques and tips on using the tool.

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