Massage for chronic lower back pain

An article on massage as an alternative treatment for chronic low back pain was recently published in the New York Times.

The study was designed by a group of researchers to see if they could find a difference between back pain sufferers who got a massage and those who did not.

The study included 401 members of a large group health plan who had moderately severe back pain unconnected with any disease and generally related to strains and sprains. The average age was 46, two-thirds of them women, and three quarters of the members selected had pain for more than a year.

The groups were divided into three categories, randomly assigned, and were similar in the other kinds and frequency of treatments they used, including painkillers or sedatives, back exercises and bed rest. Among the divided groups some received therapeutic massage therapy, which was aimed to identify specific musculoskeletal contributors to pain and to release restrictions on muscles causing the distress. Others received relaxation massage, a full-body technique intended to induce a generalized sense of relaxation to ease low back pain. The third group received no special care and served as controls.

The study concluded that after 26 weeks of treatment those in the usual care group continued to function less well than those who had received a massage.

Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD, the lead author and an epidemiologist with the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, mentioned some of the study’s considerable strengths. It had a randomized design, a high follow-up rate, good adherence to the treatment and a large sample size. Still, he said, the study was done on a mostly white, middle-class population in otherwise good health, which may limit its applicability to other groups.

In conclusion the study states “Massage therapy may be effective for treatment of chronic back pain, with benefits lasting at least six months. No clinically meaningful difference between relaxation and structural massage was observed in terms of relieving disability or symptoms.” The study can be viewed online at the Annals of Internal Medicine website,

Travis Creegan is a Registered Massage Therapist at Rehabilitation in Motion which has four Island locations. Creegan provides services out of the Courtenay clinic and both the Willow Point and the downtown clinic in Campbell River.

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