Massage and Low Back Pain: There’s the rub!

Posted on: June 23rd, 2014 by SMIWebAdmin


Massage and Low Back Pain: There's the rub!

There hasn’t been a lot of research conducted  when it comes to testing the benefits of massage therapy.  One of the better studies was completed back in 2011.(1)  It examined the effects of two different types of massage on chronic low back pain of non-specific origin compared to “usual care.”  Usual care could include taking pain medications or muscle relaxants, performing home treatment techniques such as stretching or icing, or simply doing nothing at all.  Although the study was not perfect, it did result in some useful information and provides a stepping stone for additional research.


The participants consisted of 400 adults diagnosed with non­specific, moderate ­to ­severe low back pain lasting for at least three months.  Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three groups.  The first group received a weekly whole ­body relaxing massage for 10 weeks.  The second group received weekly massages that focused on specific muscle problems around the lower back and hips.  The control group was allowed to pursue “usual care” on their own.


What did it find? 

After 10 weeks, participants in both massage groups reported greater improvements in pain and functioning compared to those in the usual care group.  Daily function improved, on average, by 3.5 to 4 points on a 23­ point scale. Average pain improved by just over 2 points on a 10 ­point scale.  For the control group, functioning improved by about 1 point, whereas pain improved by .8 points.


Digging deeper, the study uncovered some more enlightening information.  At the conclusion of the 10 ­week intervention, approximately 65% of the participants of both massage groups experienced significant improvements in pain and function whereas as only 38% of the usual care group did.  AND, almost 4 of every 10 participants in the massage groups said their pain was nearly or completely gone, compared to only 4% in the usual care group. When the message worked, it worked extremely well.


What do we recommend? 

At SMI, we always individualize treatment plans based on the specific needs of the client. BUT in general, for chronic low back pain of non­specific origin, we recommend trying 3-­5 sessions over the course of one month and then assessing the progress.  We will also give you specific exercises to do at home to supplement the sessions in the clinic.  If you do not see improvements by that point, it is probably something that is not going to respond to our work. We will help you explore alternative approaches.


If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us!


1.  Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, Wellman R, Cook AJ, Johnson E, et al. A Comparison of the Effects of 2 Types of Massage and Usual Care on Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Ann Intern

Med. 2011;155:1­9.

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