Massage therapists often gush about the therapeutic properties of massage therapy, saying it can lower levels of anxiety and stress, improve wellness, and even reduce pain. And for the most part, they’re right.
Indeed, many academic studies have demonstrated the therapeutic properties of massage, but these studies are usually small in their number of participants, and often massage is indicated as a complementary treatment, for example, as a non-invasive pain reliever for cancer patients. A study in the July 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine is therefore a breakthrough for massage therapists as it concludes that massage isn’t just a good complementary therapy, rather, it is the best choice for treating lower back pain.
The study, titled A Comparison of the Effects of 2 Types of Massage and Usual Care on Chronic Low Back Pain, is so newsworthy because it concludes that general massage therapy is more effective than standard medical treatment when dealing with back pain. This means that a weekly massage can do more to ease chronic back pain than painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs (think Advil) and physical therapy.
According to The USA Today (1), the study monitored 410 women with chronic lower back pain. The women were randomly assigned to three groups, with one group receiving standard medical care as outlined above, one receiving an hour-long, weekly structural massage therapy session, and the final group receiving a standard, hour-long Swedish massage.
The results showed that women who received either form of massage were two times as likely to have spent less time in bed due to pain, used less pain medication, and generally were more active than the women who did not receive massage therapy. Stunningly, more than one-third of the women who received massage reported their back pain as much improved or completely gone, while only four percent of women who received standard medical care could say the same thing.
What does this mean for massage therapy and its practitioners? First and foremost, it is thorough proof that massage can do what therapists have been saying it can do all along: Provide effective pain management and improve people’s quality of life. Second, this claim can be made by all massage therapists – from the highest trained to the recently graduated – as almost all therapists are well versed in Swedish massage. Finally, this should motivate therapists to continue to promote massage as an effective, non-invasive therapy to people in areas where lower back pain is common, providing therapists with another reason to market, for example, chair massage therapy to office employees.