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Study: Massage Helps Treat Low Back Pain

Researchers Say Massage Provides Pain Relief and Improves Daily Functioning

Modest, Short-Term Help continued...

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.

Stubborn Low Back Pain

Studies estimate that as many as 80% of adults will experience an episode of low back pain in their lifetimes.

In most cases, the pain will go away without any treatment in two to four weeks. About 14% of the time, however, low back pain lingers, sometimes without a readily identified cause.

Relatively few medical interventions have been proven to reliably help back pain, and it is considered to be one of the most overtreated ailments in American medicine.

"Over the last 15 years or so, there's been a steady increase in the use surgery, prescribing of opioids, in the use of injections in the use of spine imaging," Deyo says, "and overall, population-wide, it doesn't seem to have helped very much in reducing the impact of back problems."

That's why it's especially promising to find benefit in a noninvasive therapy like massage, he says.

The study found that the 10 treatments received by study participants would have cost about $540 in the community. Massage isn't typically covered by insurance.

The benefits appeared to persist for four months after the course of treatment was completed.

"I think it's true that wherever we can find alternatives that seem to be helpful, it's likely to be a useful thing for clinicians," Deyo says.

Studying Massage for Low Back Pain

Researchers recruited adults, mostly women, ages 20 to 65 who had visited the doctor at least once for their low back pain.

People were not included in the study if their back pain could be attributed to a specific cause like fractures, cancer or spinal stenosis, if they'd had surgery for their back problems in the last three years, or if they had an underlying medical condition like fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis that would complicate pain treatment.

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