A government funded study conducted in Seattle, Washington by the Group Health Research Institute, involving 401 patients, with chronic back pain who were primarily middle-aged women sought to determine if massage or drug therapy was more effective.

The participants that received either a series of relaxation massages (also known as Swedish massage) or structural massage, were found to be better able to work an active for up to a year longer than those receiving “usual medical care,” which included anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxes, pain killers, or physical therapy, the researchers found.

According to Daniel Cherkin, the lead researcher, who expected structural massage, which treats specific pain related back muscles and ligaments would prove superior to Swedish massage which focuses on relaxing the entire body.

“I thought structural massage would have been at least a little better, and that not the case.  If you’re having continuing problems with back pain even after trying is a medical care, massage may be a good thing to do.  I think the results are pretty strong,” Cherkin said.

The study funded by the national Center for complementary and alternative medicine, a part of the United States’ National Institutes of Health, is published in the July 5, 2011 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study’s participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: relaxation massage, usual care or structural massage.  Those in the massage rooms were given hour-long massage treatments weekly for 10 weeks.

After 10 weeks, whether that there are those who received either type of massage therapy.  The back pain was much better or completely resolved, compared to only one in 25 patients who received usual care, the study said.  Those in the massage groups were also two times as likely in that period to have spent fewer days in the bed, used less anti-inflammatory drugs, and were more actively engaged in physical activities compared to the standard care group.

Six months later, the groups who receive massage were still linked to better function and after one year pain and function was almost equal in all three groups.


Annals of Internal Medicine