Medication, physical therapy and back exercises are the usual care for low back pain, but traditional bodywork proved to be more beneficial among 401 patients who participated in a study that evaluated the short-term and long-term effects of massage. A study team at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle divided the patients into three groups: one group received relaxation massage that focused on muscles, a second group underwent structural massage designed to ease tension in specific tissues and joints and a third group continued with their usual care for back pain. The patients in the two massage groups received a weekly hour-long massage for 10 weeks. The study reported that afterward these patients had less pain and were better able to go about their daily activities than the participants who continued with usual care. Either kind of massage appeared to have the same positive result. What’s more, the effects of massage lasted for six months after the 10-week treatment course, although the benefits seemed to dissipate after a year. The study was published in the July 5, 2011 Annals of Internal Medicine.
My take? This is more good news about the health benefits of massage for back pain. Earlier studies have shown that massage can also lessen the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, ease post-operative pain, reduce headache frequency, relieve arthritis pain, reduce blood pressure and improve immune function. Part of the reason massage may work as well as it does is simply that many people expect it to yield a benefit. That's fine with me - the positive effects are objective and measurable, and the intervention has very low risk. Learn more about treating low back pain.