Massage might be beneficial for patients with subacute and chronic nonspecific low back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education, according to reviewers from Ontario and Brazil.

First, the details.

  • 13 studies were included in the review.
  • 8 had a high risk of bias, while the rest had low risk.
  • 1 study was published in German and the rest in English.

And, the results.

  • Massage was better than inert therapy (sham treatment) for pain and function based on short- and long-term follow-up (2 studies).
  • Massage was similar to exercises and better than joint mobilization, relaxation therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, and self-care education (8 studies).
  • Reflexology on the feet had no effect on pain and functioning (1 study).
  • Acupuncture massage produced better results than classic (Swedish) massage (1 study).
  • Thai massage was similar to classic (Swedish) massage (1 study).
  • The beneficial effects of massage in patients with chronic low back pain reportedly lasted at least 1 year after the end of the treatment.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “More studies are needed to… assess the impact of massage on return-to-work, and to determine cost-effectiveness of massage as an intervention for low back pain.”

A earlier Cochrane review concluded, “Massage might be beneficial for patients with subacute and chronic non-specific low-back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education.”

For clarity, classic Thai massage uses no oil. Stretching movements are predominant, and the client remains dressed. Other forms of massage are defined here.

7/3/09 09:52 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.