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MASSAGE AND LOW BACK PAIN, Massage Therapy Journal, Fall 2011   http://www.amtamassage.org/uploads/cms/documents/client_page_web.pdf

Low-back pain is one of the most common complaints of consumers, and now there’s research that suggests massage therapy may just be more effective in dealing with low-back pain than other more traditional medical interventions. “This is important because chronic back pain is among the most common reasons people see doctors and alternative practitioners, including massage therapists,” explains Dr. Daniel Cherkin, Director of Group Health Research Institute and lead author of the study. “It’s also a common cause of disability, absenteeism and ‘presenteeism,’ when people are at work but can’t perform well.”

The study comprised 401 patients aged 20 to 65 years old with nonspecific chronic low-back pain and compared the effectiveness of either relaxation or structural massage versus usual care, including medication and physical therapy. Participants were asked about their abilities to perform daily activities and then randomly assigned to receive one of three treatments.

One group received full-body relaxation massage, often called Swedish massage, and another received focused deep tissue massage, where specific pain-related tissues, ligaments and joints are targeted. The third group received therapies including painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or physical therapy. Those receiving massage were given a one-hour massage once a week for 10 weeks.

The results speak for themselves. After 10 weeks, the researchers again surveyed the participants about their symptoms and mobility, and again at six months and one year. The two groups of patients receiving massage therapy reported their back pain was significantly improved or gone altogether.  

 “We found that patients receiving massage were twice as likely as those receiving usual care to report significant improvements in both their pain and function,” explains Cherkin.  “After 10 weeks, about two-thirds of those receiving massage improved substantially, versus only about one third in the usual care group.” 

Although previous studies on massage therapy and low-back pain have concentrated primarily on the effectiveness of deep tissue massage, researchers are hopeful about the success of relaxation massage modalities offering significant benefits. Two reasons are that relaxation massage is oftentimes more widely available and more cost-effective.