Massage May Help Chronic Low Back Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • A new study published in the July 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that “massage therapy may be effective for treatment of chronic back pain, with benefits lasting at least 6 months.”

    I don't usually write much on back pain since that is Dr. Lasich's specialty, but since I've personally experienced improvement in my low back and hip pain from massage therapy, I wanted to share this study with you.

    Study Design and Results

    The study looked at 401 people from 20 to 65 years of age who had nonspecific chronic low back pain.  They were randomized into three treatment groups:

    • 132 received structural massage – treatment of specific painful soft tissue areas.
    • 136 received relaxation massage – Swedish massage that promotes whole-body relaxation.
    • 133 received usual care – the type of treatment they normally got (mostly medications).

    Participants in the massage groups were treated once a week for 10 weeks.

    After 10 weeks, more than one-third of the massage patients reported that their back had improved or was completely gone.  Comparatively, only one in 25 of the usual care patients reported improvement.  Six months later, those who had received either form of massage still reported improved function, however, after a year, the benefits of massage were no longer noteworthy. 

    A significant finding from this study is that both types of massage seemed to work equally well.  The massage therapists had expected to find that structural massage was more effective, so they were quite surprised to learn that relaxation massage worked just as well.  

    My Thoughts...

    Like the massage therapists, I would have thought structural massage would be more effective.  The fact that relaxation massage works equally as well is good news for people with low back pain.  Why? Because Swedish relaxation massage is much more readily available and can be less expensive than structural massage.  Most massage therapists have been taught relaxation massage techniques, but structural massage requires additional training and is, therefore, sometimes more costly. 

    Daniel C. Cherkin, et al. A Comparison of the Effects of 2 Types of Massage and Usual Care on Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2011; 155 (1): 1-9.

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Published On: July 06, 2011