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Massage Therapy May Alleviate Chronic Back Pain

Massage Therapy & Back Pain

woman getting a massage It’s no secret that massage can make the back feel better. Anecdotally, we’ve all heard stories and most of us have experienced the miracle of an amazing massage, but for those who have experienced chronic back pain, science is finally starting to show that massage can offer important benefits.

A recent study published in Pain Management has shown that massage therapy is scientifically proven to help patients who suffer regularly from chronic back pain.

The reason why massage therapy has failed to show up on the scientific radar is that past research studies examining the impact of massage on chronic lower back pain have had important methodological flaws.

Doctors argued that the affect that a good massage has on chronic back pain in the real-world isn’t the same as the effects of massage on a back pain sufferer in the lab. Experts argue that real-world massages are fundamentally different than lab massages and the results are different as well.

Until recently, the effectiveness of massage treatments on lower back pain hadn’t been adequately examined in the primary care setting, but with new research, all that is changing.

Study: Efficacy of Massage for Lumbar & Sacral Pain

The current study asked primary care physicians from 18 different practices throughout the state of Kentucky to refer patients with chronic low back pain to a massage therapist. Eighty-five patients participated over the course of twelve weeks. Patients were to have had at least 3 months of chronic pain the lumbar or sacral areas of the back. Each eligible patient received 10 free massage sessions with a licensed massage therapist in their community.

A variety of tests and measures were used to quantify the effects of real-world massage therapy on the Kentucky patients with chronic back pain. The Mental Component Summary, Bodily Pain Domain aspects of the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short Form, version 2, and the Oswestry Disability Index and Physical Component Summary were the primary assessments used to determine outcomes.

Patients showed improvement on all assessments and 24 weeks after starting the study, there was an improvement in the Bodily Pain Domain and Physical Component Summary.

Three-quarters of the patients who were experiencing clinical disability as a result of their chronic back pain showed improvement with massage therapy after 12 weeks. At 24 weeks, these patients were still experiencing improvements. Over half of the patients reported clinically meaningful improvement at 12 weeks and nearly half reported continued improvement at 24 weeks.

senior couple exercising Does Massage Effectively Treat Back Pain?

Massage therapy is a viable option for patients with certain types of back pain, but the significance of the improvement may be based on lifestyle factors. Adults over the age of 49 were more likely to experience prolonged pain relief and diminished disability than adults younger than age 49 which demonstrates the role of stress in chronic back pain.

Obesity also played a role in back pain with overweight patients who experienced major shorter-term improvements than patients with a lower Body-Mass-Index, but their improvements didn’t endure. Opioid use also diminished the probability that a patient would experience meaningful outcomes from a massage. Though patients on opioids experienced improvement in their pain, pain relief wasn’t likely to persist.