Study: Massage Helps Treat Low Back Pain
Researchers Say Massage Provides Pain Relief and Improves Daily Functioning
Modest, Short-Term Help
Experts who were not involved in the study agree.
Roger Chou, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, helped to write the 2009 American Pain Society guidelines for treating low back pain.
He says massage was recommended in those clinical practice guidelines, though the authors noted that the recommendation was based on a small number of studies and the benefits were likely to be modest.
"I think the study is quite consistent with what we have in our guideline, and it adds to the evidence that's out there," Chou says. "It strengthens the case to consider massage as one of the potential treatment options for chronic low back pain."
But Chou, and others, including the study's researchers, say exercise is likely to offer far greater benefits than massage for people who've been struggling with back pain for a long time, and they stress that people shouldn't assume that massage alone will banish low back pain for good.
"Certainly, it's not going to hurt," says Fredrick P. Wilson, DO, director of the Cleveland Clinic Solon Center for Spine Health, in Ohio.
"But it's a short-term improvement, and it's certainly not a fix," says Wilson, who reviewed the study for WebMD but was not involved in the research.
Wilson says he would have liked to have seen more objective measures of function included in the study, like spinal range of motion assessed by investigators, rather than just relying on self-reports from study participants.
But he says that on the whole, there's little harm to be had with massage, and some evidence of help. So it might be worth a try, but he says it should be coupled with exercise.
"When we see patients, we push them toward active exercise rather than passive natural therapy kind of a thing. If they can have stronger core strength to support their spine, they're going to be better off in the long run. So we're trying to fix, rather than ease, their pain," Wilson says.