Neck pain and back pain can make it difficult to relax and get good quality sleep. A lack of sleep makes us more sensitive to pain and more likely to have accidents or incur injuries. Finding a way out of this vicious cycle can be tricky. For some people with chronic pain, flotation tank therapy works wonders.
Flotation tanks or pools that offer a form of the restricted environmental stimulation technique (REST) have been used since the 1950s to help people relax and to address a variety of medical issues.
What is Flotation Therapy for Back Pain?
The technique creates a sensory deprivation experience in a water-filled tank around the size of a bed. The water is heated to skin temperature and contains enough Epsom salts (magnesium salts) to allow a person to float without any effort.
Flotation tanks usually create a quiet, dark, restful atmosphere that removes most eternal stimuli.
How Does Floating Help Relieve Back Pain?
The effect of this environment on the body is to deactivate the fight or flight response, dramatically reducing levels of stress hormones. For people with chronic neck and back pain, decreasing stress can also help to decrease pain as the two systems are interwoven.
An hour in a flotation tank helps promote deep rest and relaxation. This helps to lower a person’s sensitivity to pain and even helps to promote better quality sleep at night. The benefits of flotation therapy are, therefore, not restricted simply to the time that a person spends in the tank or pool.
In one study, patients with chronic pain from aching muscles in the back and neck were offered a chance to have nine flotation tank sessions over three weeks. In those with the most severe pain, the flotation sessions were found to significantly reduce pain over the study compared to a control group (Kjellgren et al., 2001).
The same study found that a metabolite of noradrenaline (a fight or flight hormone) was also significantly reduced in those using the flotation technique. Interestingly, patients who floated also had an increase in optimism and a reduction in anxiety and depression. They also slept better at night!
Who Can Benefit from Flotation Therapy for Back Pain Relief?
Floating provides natural traction for the spine, helping to decompress spinal spaces that may produce pain when standing or sitting. Floating also helps patients to relax and reduce pain with minimal effort and no side effects. This could, then, increase motivation and ability to engage in other types of therapy.
Flotation therapy for back pain and neck pain may be particularly useful for stress-related pin and conditions which can also affect sleep. This would include conditions such as fibromyalgia.