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Philadelphia, July 5, 2011 -- Low back pain is one of the most
common reasons patients see a physician. Massage therapy is
frequently used as an alternative treatment for chronic low back
pain, but there is limited evidence as to its effectiveness.
According to a new study, massage may be more effective than usual
medical interventions for improving pain and function in patients
with chronic low back pain.
Researchers studied 401 patients aged 20 to 65 years with
nonspecific chronic low back pain to compare the effectiveness of
either relaxation or structural massage versus usual care. Patients
were surveyed about their symptoms and ability to perform daily
activities and then randomly assigned to receive relaxation
massage, structure massage (a massage focused on correcting
soft-tissue abnormalities), or usual treatment with no massage.
Participants in the massage groups had a one-hour massage once a
week for 10 weeks, while patients in the usual care group received
therapy such as painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle
relaxants, or physical therapy. After 10 weeks, the researchers
re-measured the participants' symptoms and mobility, and then
re-measured again at six months and one year. They found that
patients in both of the massage groups fared much better than those
receiving usual care.
"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," said Dr. Daniel Cherkin, Director of
Group Health Research Institute and lead author of the study.
"After 10 weeks, about two-thirds of those receiving massage
improved substantially, versus only about one-third in the usual
In addition to improvements in pain and mobility, patients also
reported a reduction in the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
medications after massage.
While both relaxation and structural massage provided relief and
restored function, the researchers suggest that relaxation massage
may have a slight advantage over structural massage because it is
taught in almost all massage schools, making it more readily
accessible and slightly less expensive than structural or other
specialized forms of massage.
About Annals of Internal MedicineAnnals of Internal Medicine is one of the five most widely
cited peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, with a current
impact factor of 16.2. The journal has been published for 82 years.
It accepts only 7 percent of the original research studies
submitted for publication. Follow Annals on Twitter and Facebook.