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Study: Massage Helps Treat Low Back Pain

Researchers Say Massage Provides Pain Relief and Improves Daily Functioning

Studying Massage for Low Back Pain continued...

Before and after the 10 weekly massages, participants completed questionnaires that assessed pain and physical functioning. They were asked, for example, how easy or hard it was for them to get up from a chair or to tie their shoes.

Before getting the massage therapy, about half of study participants in each group reported taking daily medication to treat their low back pain. NSAIDs were most commonly used, followed by analgesics and sedatives. Across all groups, average scores of physical functioning were around 10 on a scale from 0 to 23. Average scores of pain were around 6 on a scale from 0 to 10.

After having 10 weeks of massage, participants in the structural massage group had average scores of 6.5 for physical functioning and 3.8 for pain. Those who got relaxation massages had average scores of 6 for physical functioning and 3.5 for pain. Those in the usual care group scored 9 for physical functioning and 5.2 for pain.

The massage groups improved in other important ways, too. After 10 weeks, they were less likely to report using medication for their low back pain than those in the usual care group. They also reported fewer days in bed and fewer days of lost work or school than those who got usual care.

After six months, many of the improvements experienced by the massage group had persisted, but they were negligible after one year, the study shows.

The study had limitations, the researchers say, particularly that people who got usual care knew they were missing out on massages received by other participants. That might have led them to exaggerate the symptoms they reported to researchers, making massage seem more effective than it really was.

And they said because low back pain often returns after the first episode, it would probably be wise for people who use massage in conjunction with exercise.

But often, Deyo points out, low back pain hurts so much that it's hard to move, and being inactive, studies show, can make back pain worse. Massage, he thinks, may help to break the pain-inactivity cycle.

"In some ways, this may be a way of helping patients to improve, giving them confidence that they can get some control over the problem and maybe help to ease the transition into a more active type of therapy," Deyo says.

"I don't see massage as the final solution," he says, "I see it as maybe a helpful step toward getting people more active."

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