study proving that massage therapy is effective for lower back
pain, was featured on NPRs "All Things Considered."
Low back pain is very common. It often goes away after several
days or weeks, but it may last for months or years or periodically
recur. The usual treatments for low back pain include drugs
(painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and muscle relaxants),
physical therapy, back exercises, and education about ways to
prevent back injury and deal with back pain. Some people use
alternative treatments for low back pain, such as chiropractic or
This study compared the short-term and long-term effects of
relaxation massage, structural massage, and usual care for people
with persisting low back pain.
The researchers first gathered information about the participants'
symptoms and how much those symptoms limited their daily
activities. They then randomly assigned each participant to receive
relaxation massage, structural massage, or usual medical care
without massage. Participants assigned to the massage groups got
about 1 hour of massage once a week for 10 weeks. The researchers
remeasured participants' symptoms and ability to perform daily
activities after completing the 10 massage treatments, and then at
6 months and 1 year after starting massage therapy.
Participants who received massage had less pain and were better
able to perform daily activities after 10 weeks than those who
received usual care. The benefits of massage lasted for 6 months
but were less clear at 1 year, when pain and function had improved
about equally in all 3 groups. The type of massage did not seem to
make a difference. Symptoms and ability to perform activities
improved about the same in the 2 massage groups.
(The full report is titled "A Comparison of the Effects of 2 Types
of Massage and Usual Care on Chronic Low Back Pain. A Randomized,
Controlled Trial." It is in the 5 July 2011 issue of Annals of
Internal Medicine (volume 155, pages 1-9). The authors are D.C.
Cherkin, K.J. Sherman, J. Kahn, R. Wellman, A.J. Cook, E. Johnson,
J. Erro, K. Delaney, and R.A. Deyo.)