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Massage--including the kind you get at the spa--may improve lower back pain

July 05, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Both relaxation and structural massage improved back pain in a study
Both relaxation and structural massage improved back pain in a study (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Massage therapy may hit the spot for people suffering from low back pain. A recent study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that two types of massage--relaxation and structural--improved function and pain for people with low back pain, compared with regular treatment.

The study included 401 men and women age 20 to 65 who had nonspecific lower back pain. Two-thirds were randomly assigned to two types of massage: relaxation, or Swedish, massage, non-therapeutic massage not intended for helping with pain; and structural massage, which often concentrates on soft tissue and pain issues. The hour-long weekly massage sessions lasted for 10 weeks. The other test study subjects were assigned to follow their usual care, which typically included medication.

After 10 weeks all groups shows improvement in pain and function, but the two massage groups fared better than the control. More than one in three participants in the massage groups reported their back pain disappeared or was improved, compared with one in 25 who received usual care.

The positive effects started to diminish after the 10 weeks, but at 26 weeks the massage groups still had better function than the control group. After a year there were no substantial differences in symptoms among the three groups.

"We found the benefits of massage are about as strong as those reported for other effective treatments: medications, acupuncture, exercise and yoga," said lead author Daniel C. Cherkin, of Group Health Research Institute in Seattle in a news release. "And massage is at least as safe as other treatment options. So people who have persistent back pain may want to consider massage as an option."

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