Looking for short-term relief from low-back pain? Try massage

Can neurological massage help with chronic low back pain?

That’s one of the questions researchers asked in a systematic review of the current evidence on non-drug therapies for acute or chronic low back pain that has been published in medical journals.

A variety of massage types have been used for chronic pain, including sports massage, deep tissue, remedial, and therapeutic massage techniques. Such massage often helps decrease stress and tension from pain, and allow muscles to relax. The objective is to reduce pain by increasing healing and blocking the pain signals sent to the brain. Essentially, massage increases blood flow and releases oxygen and nutrients into tissues.

The researcher’s purpose was to review the evidence of the benefits and harms of such therapies for low back pain in an effort to update the American College of Physicians guidelines clinical practice guidelines for treatment of low back pain. They published their findings in the Feb. 14, 2017 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

They conducted a comprehensive search for articles available in the main databases of medical research available. After looking at 2,847 abstracts and titles, they selected 814 articles for full-text review and ended up with 114 studies that met their criteria for study quality that compared non-medicine therapies that were well designed and involved sufficient numbers of patients.

They analyzed the evidence gleaned from studies of exercise, Tai Chi, Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction, acupuncture, massage, spinal manipulation.

For massage, they analyzed the evidence taken from 13 trials involving a total of 1,596 people with acute (temporary) or chronic low back pain.

They found 1 trial showing that structural or relaxation massage had small effects on the pain assessed with the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RDQ), which is a 24-item questionnaire that patients answer with regard to their pain level, ability to function and other measures of how the low back pain affects them.

Using that assessment the researchers found that after 10 to 12 weeks of massage therapy for their pain, patients achieved a small benefit, with an average improvement of 2 to 3 points on their RDQ score compared to patients who underwent usual care. The difference between massage and usual care disappeared after 52 weeks.

Another trial found no RDQ changes from massage (Swedish massage, soft tissue release, and stretching) versus usual care. Three other trials found no clear difference in pain or function between foot reflexology and usual care or sham (light foot) massage.

Based on the 13 massage studies included in the analysis, the researchers concluded that compared with other noninvasive interventions (chiropractic, exercise, relaxation therapy, acupuncture, etc.) massage had better effects on short-term pain in 8 of 9 trials and short-term function. There was no conclusion regarding the long-term effect of massage on chronic low back pain.

Overall, the researchers concluded that several non-drug therapies for primarily chronic low back pain are associated with small to moderate, usually short-term effects on pain.

In short many people may achieve short-term relief from lower back pain as a result of massage therapy. That’s why at Dr. Michael Gomez, we take an integrated approach working with partners in specialized physical therapy and other specialists in low back pain to help you achieve the optimal pain relief for your low back pain. Should you find that non-surgical methods are no longer providing the pain relief you need to function normally, we are happy to review your MRI and discuss all your options and answer all your questions to ensure you get the best treatment for you.