Sending a Message about MassageHow about a nice backrub for that chronic, aching low back pain? A massage sounds like a good idea. But at $25 to $50 per visit, it would be nice to know that it does more than just feel good. This is especially true when at least 50 other types of pain-relieving treatment are available.
Too often, promise are made that massage will relieve pain, reduce suffering, and cure the problem. Many studies over the years have looked at the results of treatment for back pain. Sometimes massage alone is studied, while other studies compare massage to one or more other options. Results can be anything from pain relief to improved function, more range of motion, or increased strength.
Using just pain relief as a measure of effectiveness, massage does work in cases of chronic back pain. It's even better when combined with exercises and education. But don't sign up for a massage just yet. Several studies show that manipulation or electrical stimulation is equal to, if not better than, massage.
Again the goal is short-term pain relief. The effects of these treatments on long-term pain (more than one year) are unknown. Future studies will look at the effect of various treatments on long-term results. In the meantime, massage therapy helps improve symptoms and function. It may save money by reducing doctor visits, use of drugs, and costs of other back care services. If you want to get the most from a massage, exercise regularly and educate yourself about back care in general.
Andrea D. Furlan, MD, et al. Massage for Low-back Pain: A Systematic Review Within the Framework of the Cochrane Collaboration Back Review Group. In Spine. September 1, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 17. Pp. 1896-1910.
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