Comparing 2 massage techniques to treat chronic back pain

Researchers in the US compared 2 types of massage and usual care.

First, the details.

  • 401 adults with nonspecific chronic low back pain were randomly assigned to a treatment group.
  • Neither the patients nor researchers knew the treatment (massage) given — double blind.
  • The response to treatment was evaluated using the Roland Disability Questionnaire (RDQ) and symptom bothersomeness scores at 10, 26, and 52 weeks.
  • Average group differences of at least 2 points on the RDQ and at least 1.5 points on the symptom bothersomeness scale were considered clinically meaningful.

And, the results.

  • The massage groups had similar outcomes at 10 weeks.
  • RDQ score
    • 2.9 points lower in the relaxation group and 2.5 points lower in the structural massage group vs usual care.
  • Bothersomeness scores
    • 1.7 points lower with relaxation massage and 1.4 points lower with structural massage.
  • The beneficial effects of relaxation massage on function (but not on symptom reduction) persisted at 52 weeks but were small.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “Massage therapy may be effective for treatment of chronic back pain, with benefits lasting at least 6 months.”

Massage is marginally better than usual care, but there was no clinically meaningful difference between relaxation and structural massage.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine funded this study

7/13/11 20:11 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.