Benefits of massage for chronic neck pain

 Researchers from the University of Washington, in Seattle studied whether therapeutic massage is beneficial treatment for chronic neck pain.

First, the details.

  • 64 patients with chronic neck pain were randomly assigned to receive up to 10 massages over 10 weeks or a self-care book.
  • Follow-up telephone interviews after 4, 10, and 26 weeks were used to assess dysfunction and symptoms.
  • Improvement was defined as greater than a 5-point improvement on the Neck Disability Index, and greater than 30% improvement on the symptom bothersomeness scale.
    • You know the bothersomeness scale: not bothered at all, bothered a little, bothered moderately… and ticked off.

And, the results.

  • At 10 weeks, massage was associated with a clinically significant 39% improvement on the Neck Disability Index 39% vs 14% in the book group.
  • There was also a significant 55% improvement in the symptom bothersomeness scale vs. 25% in the book group.
  • After 26 weeks, those in the massage group tended to be more likely to report improved function, but not symptom bothersomeness.
  • Differences between groups were greatest at 4 weeks.
  • There were no differences by 26 weeks.
  • No serious adverse experiences were reported.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “This study suggests that massage is safe and may have clinical benefits for treating chronic neck pain at least in the short term.”

The use of massage is increasing, according to The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

It’s rarely used as the main treatment for chronic pain, says Dr. Jennie Tsao from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in California. Its primary role is to prepare patients for exercise or to complement other treatments (eg, physical therapy or drugs).

These results suggest it has short-term benefits on its own.

4/1/09 21:59 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.