A common research design evaluating the effectiveness of massage therapy involved treatments with standardized manual therapy / massage sessions, rarely found in the real-world. A new study from Indiana University-Purdue University published in the journal Pain Medicine tackled this deficiency: therapists were free to design massage programs according to the specific patient’s needs. The researchers recruited 104 people with persistent back pain who were referred by their doctors to licensed massage therapists. Modalities used by therapists varied including Swedish massage, active isolated stretching, myofascial techniques, lymphatic drainage, trigger point therapy, neuromuscular therapy, craniosacral therapy, reflexology, Reiki, acupressure, and positional release. The treatment regimen was 10 sessions over 12 weeks.
After 12 weeks of massage therapy, more than half of the patients reported improved outcomes in terms of pain reduction, and meaningful physical and mental improvement. In addition, the improvement still lasted after 24 weeks. Several people improved so much that their scores on a standard screening test dropped below the threshold for disability.
While improvement was observed across the board, there were a few demographic trends. Adults older than age 49 years had better pain and disability outcomes than younger adults. People with obesity tended to improve, but those gains didn’t last. People taking opioids were two times less likely to experience meaningful changes, compared to those not taking them.
The study has a limitation as it does not have a control. However as noted by Prof. Aaron E. Carroll from Indiana University School of Medicine “given the natural course of back pain — that most of it goes away no matter what you do — the ideal approach is to treat the symptoms and let the body heal. Non-invasive therapies seem to do that well enough.”
This blog post article was reproduced with permission from Terra Rosa.