Study: Massage Helps Chronic Back Pain

ByABC News
April 23, 2001, 9:39 AM

N E W   Y O R K, April 23, 2001 -- Doctors may soon be giving prescriptions for a therapeutic massage to those millions of Americans suffering from chronic lower back pain.

A study in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine says therapeutic massage is the most effective treatment for chronic lower back pain, compared to acupuncture and self-help remedies.

It may seem obvious that therapeutic manipulation of muscles would alleviate back pain, but until now few scientific studies have found evidence massage actually helped.

Massage Compared to Acupuncture

In the study, researchers from the Group Health Center in Seattle put 262 patients aged 20 to 70 years old into three treatment groups: traditional Chinese acupuncture, therapeutic massage or self-care educational materials.

Investigators allowed up to 10 massages or acupuncture visits during the 10-week study period. Telephone interviewers, unaware of the treatment group to which the participant was assigned, assessed patient symptoms and inability to function at 4, 10 and 52 weeks.

The researchers found therapeutic massage was the most effective treatment, apparently providing long-lasting benefits. Acupuncture was relatively ineffective.

Study Scientifically Validates Massage

This is the third trial showing benefits from therapeutic massage for chronic back pain, but the results cannot be extrapolated for people who experience acute attacks of back pain, says Dr. Claire Bombardier, professor of medicine at the Institute of Work and Health, in Toronto, Canada.

Acute back pain lasts less than 4 weeks, while chronic pain usually continues for more than 12 weeks. Eight out of 10 people will have a problem with back pain at some point in their lives. More serious cases may require surgery.

Most people with chronic lower back pain have not injured their back suddenly. Over time the back is subject to repeated stresses and can injure the spine. People often treat back pain with analgesics and bed rest, but the pain can return.