A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that massage therapy was an effective treatment for short term relief of back pain — getting similar results as either medication or exercise.
Researchers with the Group Health Research Institute recruited 401 patients who had chronic lower back pain with no defined cause. Segments of the study group received relaxation (Swedish) massage, structural massage (more similar to physical therapy), or “usual medical care”, which consisted of anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, or physical therapy.
After 10 weeks of study researchers discovered more than 1/3 of the patients receiving either type of massage reported their back pain was “much better” or “gone”. Only one in 25 patients in the “usual care” group reported the same relief.
Participants in the massage groups also reported functioning significantly better than before the study began. They spent fewer days in bed, were more active and used less anti-inflammatory medication than their usual-care counterparts.
Lead investigator Daniel Cherkin, PhD says the bottom line is that “the benefits of massage are about as strong as those reported for other effective treatments: medications, acupuncture, exercise, and yoga. And massage is at least as safe as other treatment options. So people who have persistent back pain may want to consider massage as an option.”
But before you jot “massage” down in the “miracle cure for back pain” column, it’s important to note that study participants reported the benefits of massage faded over time. After six months of either structural or relaxation massage participants still reported feeling better, but at the one-year mark the results were statistically insignificant.
Still, for short-term relief massage seems to be a viable option.
Study authors also thought it was interesting that structural and relaxation massage produced similar results in terms of pain relief.
“The massage therapists assumed structural massage would prove more effective than relaxation massage,” says Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute. “They were surprised when patients in the relaxation group got so much relief from their back pain.”
Since relaxation massage is more widely available and typically less expensive than structural massage, these findings could help back pain sufferers find affordable relief close to home.
For more information on this study and its findings, check out this video from the Group Health Research Institute.