A recent clinical trial has some health news for those who don’t like prescription drug side effects: try a massage the next time you have low back pain.
Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health) recruited 401 patients for the clinical trial. The study participants were mostly middle-aged, female and white. All suffered from chronic low back pain.
The participants were randomly assigned to one of the three groups: structural massage; relaxation massage; or usual care. Those in the massage groups were given hour-long massage treatments weekly for 10 weeks.
The research team found that, at 10 weeks, more than one-third of those who received either type of massage said their back pain was much better or gone, compared to only one in 25 patients who received usual care! Those in the massage groups were also twice as likely in that period to report other health benefits. They spent fewer days in bed, used less anti-inflammatory medication, and engaged in more activity than the standard care group. After six months, both types of massage were still linked to improved function.
The researchers noted that most Americans will experience low back pain during their lifetime. They were particularly excited about this study because one huge benefit of massage therapy is that it is relative safe compared to other treatments. During the trial, only one of 10 patients felt pain during or after massage, but most of those thought it was a “good pain.”
Was there any difference between structural massage and relaxation massage when it came to easing low back pain? The research team initially thought structural massage, which manipulates specific pain-related back muscles and ligaments, would prove superior to relaxation massage. Relaxation massage or Swedish massage aims to promote a feeling of body-wide relaxation. Both massage types proved equally effective.
The researchers did note, however, that structural massage requires more training and may be more likely to be paid for by health insurance plans.
You can get your doctor’s advice if you are considering trying a massage therapist. If you decide to give a massage therapist a try, consider the following tips.
Assess your comfort level and instincts about a massage practitioner and use this to guide your decision. At the same time, make sure your practitioner:
–Is honest and respectful;
–Is knowledgeable about their field of practice (they can be registered, but keep in mind that there are also many effective and well-trained massage therapists who are not registered); and
–Works in a comfortable, clean and professional environment.