Dr. Jennie Tsao from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in California has reviewed the evidence and concludes it depends on the type of pain being treated.
Studies were reviewed if they were well-designed and covered chronic, non-malignant pain conditions in adults. One problem was the lack of follow-up to document the duration of improvement seen immediately after treatment.
The strongest support for massage therapy is in people with non-specific low back pain, shoulder pain, and headache pain.
There is considerably less support for treating fibromyalgia, mixed chronic pain conditions, neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
How does massage work?
Nobody knows for sure, Dr. Tsao discusses many theories.
The bottom line?
Massage appears to be safe, but it’s rarely used as the main treatment for chronic pain. Its primary role is to prepare patients for exercise or to complement other treatments (eg, physical therapy or drugs), although there’s no evidence that it makes other treatments more effective.
John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.