Massage speeds recovery from back pain

Consumer Reports News: July 05, 2011 02:18 PM

Massage helps people make a faster recovery from long-term back pain, researchers have found.

In a new study, researchers compared two types of massage with usual care from a doctor. Some people had relaxation massage, which uses a fairly light touch to help people feel relaxed. Others had structural massage, which aims to correct abnormalities in muscles and other soft tissue.

People in the study were between ages 20 and 65, and had suffered from back pain for more than three months. At the start of the study, the average rating people gave to their level of disability was 11, on a scale from 0 to 23 (with higher scores meaning more disability).

After having an hour of massage every week for 10 weeks, the average disability score among people having relaxation massage fell to 6. Disability fell to 6.5 among people having structural massage.

In comparison, people who had usual care from their doctor rated their disability at 9 points after 10 weeks. Usual care could mean any treatment recommended by a doctor, including painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, or physical therapy.

Back pain eventually went away for people who didn’t have massage, but they took around 26 weeks to recover instead of 10.

A slight problem with the study is that, compared with the people who continued seeing their regular doctor, the people having massage were getting more treatment and spending more time with health professionals. This could have given them extra reassurance and led them to expect an improvement in their back pain. This would have biased the study in favor of massage.

Bottom line: Massage may be worth trying if you have back pain that has lasted longer than three months. Other treatments for back pain include exercises, painkillers, therapy to help you cope with pain, and spinal manipulation. Stronger painkillers and drugs to relax your muscles may help, but they can cause side effects.


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]

Philip Wilson, BMJ Group has partnered with The BMJ Group to monitor the latest medical research and assess the evidence to help you decide which news you should use.

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