Lower back pain is one of the top reasons people seek medical attention in the U.S., and it is notoriously tough to treat. Most lower back pain comes from injury or overuse of muscles, ligaments and joints. Less common are pressure on nerve roots, compression fractures and infections.
Studies show very few medical therapies, from medications to injections to surgeries, reliably relieve it, and some can aggravate the problem. A new study randomly assigned 400 adults with moderate-to-severe low back pain lasting for at least three months to either weekly whole-body massages for relaxation, weekly massages that focused on specific muscle problems around the lower back and hips, or usual care (“control group”). People assigned to the usual care group were tracked by researchers, but they dealt with their back problems on their own. The approach could include, for instance, taking pain medications or muscle relaxants, seeing doctors or chiropractors, physical therapy, or not doing anything.
“This trial is good news [and] suggests that massage is a useful option that helps a substantial fraction of patients.” Dan Cherkin, PhD, CHS, Seattle
After 10 weeks, participants in both massage groups reported greater average improvements in pain and functioning compared to those in the usual care group. And the type of massage they received didn’t seem to matter. At the end of the 10-week intervention, 36% and 39% of patients in the massage groups said their pain was nearly or completely gone, compared to 4% in the usual care group.