Massage eases low back pain, even after six months

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Massage and back pain
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Massage improves function with non-specific back pain

Preventing disability and loss of income from low back pain may be as simple as getting a massage, finds new research. According to study results that compared Swedish and structural massage, both work well to ease low back pain, even after six months.

One of the benefits of massage is there are no side effects that come with medications.

Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute and study leader said:

"This is important because chronic back pain is among the most common reasons people see doctors and alternative practitioners, including massage therapists" .He adds, It's also a common cause of disability, absenteeism, and 'presenteeism,' when people are at work but can't perform well."

Cherkin says massage helped study participants with low back pain that was non-specific, even after six months, allowing them to remain active and productive.

Enrollees for the current study included 400 Group Health Cooperative patients with back pain for at least 3 months.

Each participant either received a one hour structural or relaxation massage once a week for 10 weeks or usual care – mostly medication treatment.

After ten weeks, one in three patients receiving massage improved or were pain free compared to one in 25 given ‘usual care’.

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"As expected with most treatments, the benefits of massage declined over time," Dr. Cherkin said. "But at six months after the trial started, both types of massage were still associated with improved function." After one year, the benefits of massage were no longer significant."

Cherkin says, even though the results didn’t persist, getting a massage for low back pain worth considering.

Structural massage is likely to be covered by some insurance companies also, say the researchers who also expected to find it more beneficial than Swedish or relaxation massage.

The massage therapists…"were surprised when patients in the relaxation group got so much relief from their back pain", said Cherkin.

The research team isn’t sure why massage eases low back pain, but it may be the mere act of being touched or being in a relaxing environment that are non-specific contributors that relieve pain.

Or it may be that massage allows individuals to participate actively in the healing process.

Other considerations are that massage stimulates tissue and calms the central nervous system, explaining why massage eases low back pain.

Annals of Internal Medicine: July 5, 2011 vol. 155 no. 1
"A Comparison of the Effects of 2 Types of Massage and Usual Care on Chronic Low Back Pain"
Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD et al

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