More people consult alternative therapists about back pain than for any other reason, and the causes of their pain are very diverse. The right form of treatment - chiropractice or osteopathy, acupuncture, Alexander technique, massage with or with­out essential oils - needs to be carefully chosen in relation to the source of the back pain.

Aromatherapy massage is a very effective form of treatment where the pain is due to muscular fatigue, spasm or tension, and there are a large number of essential oils that will help both to reduce pain in the short term and treat the muscular problem in the longer term. Lavender, Marjoram and Rosemary are the most often used, sometimes with an oil from one of the warming spices, such as Black Pepper or Ginger where there is acute pain.

A well trained aromatherapist will have a good knowledge of anatomy and will be able to decide whether to refer a patient to an osteopath or chiropractor for manipulation. Even if there is no apparent displacement in the spine or other joints, back pain that is not improved after three or four massages with essential oils needs to be investigated further. Apart from such obvious causes as sporting injury, domestic or industrial strains such as heavy lifting, bad posture, faulty seating at work or in a car, back pain can arise from a number of mental, emotional or physical problems. Backache may be a symptom of kidney infection or disease, of various gynaecological abnormalities, or of degenerative conditions of the spine itself, and these possibilities must be I  investigated by a properly qualified specialist in that field.

A great deal of backpain arises from stress. Many people respond to stress by tensing muscles, usually without realising that they are doing so, and the back is one of the areas most often affected. The upper back, neck and shoulders are very often the site of such tensions, and tension in the neck can often affect the lower (sacral) area of the back as well. Here, aromatherapy is one of the best forms of treatment, since massage with the oils not only relieves the physical pain but can reduce the stress which has given rise to it. Massage is a valuable way of re-educating tense muscles. Many people are not aware of just how much tension they are holding in some areas of the body, and the degree of relaxation that can be achieved through massage is a very good way of learning to let go of that physical tension. Essential oils can be sensitively chosen to help with the mental/ emotional stress that has given rise to the physical tension.

Aromatic baths are a very useful form of self-help when backache is caused by tension, using relaxing, painkilling and antidepressant oils, either between visits to a therapist for mas­sage, or to prevent tensions building up to the state where such help is needed.

When manipulation for any spinal or other displacement is needed, massage with essential oils both before and after the manipulation can reduce pain and increase the effectiveness of the treatment. An increasing number of manipulative therapists insist on a thorough massage of the affected area before they begin manipulation. Some carry this out themselves, while others employ masseurs in their clinics to do this for them. Some stretching of the muscles is inevitable in any manipulation, but if the muscles are warmed and relaxed beforehand this can be minimised. Following manipulation, this stretching can give rise to some surface soreness, and again massage will reduce this. It will also help the muscles to recover strength and tone, and essential oils such as Rosemary will make the progress more effective.

Many back injuries which require manipulation arise because of poor muscle tone, when the muscles are no longer capable of doing their job of supporting the individual vertebrae of the spine, or the various joints associated with it, such as the fixed joint where the sacrum (part of the lower spine) meets the illium (part of the massive hip-bone). In the long run, the best way to increase muscle tone is exercise, but the exercise must be carefully chosen to improve the condition of the back without placing further strain on it. Osteopaths will often give advice on suitable exercise, and yoga teachers will be able to give expert advice, too. In the short term, exercise is usually best avoided and the back rested until the injury or displacement has been successfully treated.

The best form of treatment for backache, though, is prevention, and regular use of aromatic baths and massage with essential oils can help to prevent pain by reducing stress, improving muscle tone, relaxing tight muscles and improving the general level of well-being.

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