Real-World Massage Good for Low Back Pain, Study Says

Real-World Massage Good for Low Back Pain, Study Says

By Staff

It looks like real-world massage may be an effective treatment for chronic low back pain.  A study published in the journal Pain Medicine showed that more than 50 percent of adults who were in the study experienced clinically meaningful improvements in their low back pain with disability.

“The study’s findings are important, given the large number of people who suffer low back pain in the U.S.,” said Niki Munk, an assistant professor of health sciences in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and one of the co-first authors of the study.

According to a news release from Indiana University, low back pain leads all disorders in years lost to disability in the U.S. Most patients improve rapidly, but one-third report persistent back pain, and 15 percent develop chronic low back pain with significant physical limitations.

“The study can give primary care providers the confidence to tell patients with chronic low back pain to try massage, if the patients can afford to do so,” Munk said. Generally, massage is not covered by insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.

Indiana University went on to say the following:

Previous studies of the effectiveness of massage were conducted in controlled research situations. In this study, patients were referred by a physician to a massage therapist. The massage therapist designed and provided a series of 10 massages — at no cost to the patient — in a clinical treatment environment, mimicking the experience of people who choose to seek massage therapy in the real world.

This study also looked at different characteristics associated with patients being more likely or less likely to experience clinically meaningful change from massage. Among the study’s findings:

Adults in the baby-boom and older generations tended to be much more likely to experience clinically meaningful changes.

Obese patients experienced significant improvements, but those improvements were not retained over time.

Patients who were taking opioids experienced improvements in their pain from disability in some cases but were two times less likely to experience clinically meaningful change compared to those who were not taking opioids.

While the study results are promising, much more work needs to be done, Munk said: “The fact of the matter is that chronic lower back pain is very complex and often requires a maintenance-type approach versus a short-term intervention option.”

Additional investigation is needed to replicate the results of the initial study and to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of massage therapy, Munk said.

“Massage is an out-of-pocket cost,” she said. “Generally, people wonder if it is worth it. Will it pay to provide massage to people for an extended period of time? Will it help avoid back surgeries, for example, that may or may not have great outcomes? These are the types of analyses that we hope will result from this study.”

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Authored by: Staff

There are 11 comments for this article
  1. scott michaels at 7:14 pm

    LEAH IF YOU SO CLOSE TO THE CDC GET AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE ADVOCATES PEOPLE IN WHEEL CHAIRS ETC AND P8CKET THEM FOR THE TORTOUROUS GUODELINES. THEY ARE CAUSING SUICIDE HEROIN OVERDOSES AND MOST PEOPLE ARE JUST LIVING UNTREATED. LET THEM SEE YOUR PAIN UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL.

  2. gerard becker at 1:55 pm

    I thought I would be unique in my incredulity about this useless and expensive so-called treatment! Since I am in agreement with all those who have had their back-pained bodies violated by massage anti-therapy(!)–be it swedish, shiatsu, rolfing, ad nauseum, I just add my voice to the chorus of boos!

  3. Jean Price at 12:55 pm

    I’m guessing those who use opioids WERE less likely to experience any sustained relief from massage…BECAUSE THEIR BACK PAIN WAS MORE EXTENSIVE AND MORE DAMAGING THAN MASSAGE COULD POSSIBLY EVER HELP! Yet, has nothing to do with the fact they were using opioids…which this article seemed to imply, in my opinion! It felt more like that was a condemnation of sorts, to those with back pain who DO use opioids!! MAYBE I’m just really sensitized to this sort of thing, though! No doubt I AM fed up with ALL the negativity toward using opioids for pain! Yet, I for one just don’t appreciate more of this! Especially here!

    I’m not doubting this WAS the case in this study…since we all know, (have likely tried massage to no avail ourselves, which just backs up our knowledge)…that massage is certainly NOT effective for reducing long term, persistent pain from a variety of causes!! Yes, it can help temporarily sometimes…by relaxing us! Yet, often this lasts NO LONGER than the time we are on the table or the time it takes to travel home!! And it CAN also can be very painful to even have a massage done, for many of us!! Plus yes…there is that expense thing…so how does one get around that!? Especially while living on a reduced disability income!?

    I know there is always news, good news, no news, inflammatory news, biased news, and even irrelevant news…and I also know where this article fits for me!! It’s not really worth the read, in my ooinion…and it’s also probably not even worth commenting on either! Just one more little tidbit of “non-information”…to add to the frustration of living in pain and not being supported by research that actually helps, or not hearing “news” that seriously would make a difference in my life!

    Oh well, what’s new about that?! I really should be more used to this by now, I suppose! Maybe I’m an eternal optimist…still hoping for something positive and helpful, or at least informative and honest! I’d settle for supportive and insightful, even! Ugh!! I guess that’s just not happening, is it?! Well, maybe tomorrow…

  4. Malinda at 6:45 am

    As a fibromyalgia patient I have only had one massage that helped me for about 30 minutes. This was by a therapist at OHSU in Oregon. All other attempts left me in tears. When asked “why didn’t you tell me , I would have stopped” I replied because I wanted to get better and I kept thinking it would make me better.

    I have a total of 9 levels fused, in 2 sections both upper and lower. The only thing that helps is denervation and pain medication. Without both at appropriate times I would not walk and would sleep off and on most of the time.

  5. Sandra at 7:38 pm

    Message for serious back pain…I don’t want to use words on this. Just stop and think

  6. scott michaels at 4:58 pm

    Wow! More money wastes. Surprise, A massage makes you feel better. REALLY! DUH.
    IT’S GOOD FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS. AS IS A CHIROPRACTOR.
    I NSTEAD OF THESE REDICULOUS STUDIES. Im sure they can find 10000 chronic pain patients no, make that 1,000,000 patients to VERIFY LONG TERM HIGH DOSE OPIOID THERAPY TAKES AWAY PAIN, WITH MINIMAL IF ANY SIDE EFFECTS WHEN TALEN DIRECTLY.
    I AM ALSO POSITIVE THOSE SAME PEOPLE THAT HAVE BEEN ABANDONED BY THE DOCTORS AND INSURANCE COMPANIES BY REDUCING OR JUST STOPPING THE MEDICATION THAT HAS WORKED FOR THEM FOR YEARS AND DECADES ARE NOW IN SEVERE PAIN AGAIN.
    WHEN A PAIN PATIENT TAKES MEDICUNE AS DIRECTED, THEY NEVER FEEL WITHDRAWALS BECAUSE THEY HAVE ENOUGH TO LAST A MONTH. THEY ALSO ARE ABLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIER LIVES BECAUSE THE PAIN IS NEGLEGABLE WHEN THEY HAVE THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF PROPER MEDICINE.
    KAISER SAID I WILL DIE IF I KEEP TAKING IT. THEY SAID THEY WILL GO TO JAIL OF THEY DON’T REDUCE MY MEDS AND THE BEST WAS THEY SAID THE CDC GUIDELINES ARE REGULATIONS. THEY ARE NOT!
    IF I WERE ONLY 20 AGAIN AND WAS A LOW LIFE SCUM BAG. THE MONEY BEING MADE ON HEROIN AT OUR EXPENSE IS DISGUSTING.
    SHAME ON THIS COUNTRY!!!

  7. M Brown at 2:04 pm

    There is no one fits all pain easing method.

    I have fibromyalgia and a massage sends me into hell. I end up crying. I am willing to always try and they always ask why didn’t I ask them to stop earlier. Well, in my mind I keep thinking: in a minute it will help.

  8. Judy at 7:57 am

    As an overweight baby boomer NOT on opioids, who’s been living with chronic low back pain for 25+ years I can tell you massage did NOT help me at all. In fact it actually hurt more. I will never do it again.

  9. Jean Pierre Van Damned at 7:27 am

    As a 23 year patient of chronic back pain due to a le$$ than “good” surgeon and after 100’s, maybe more lower back massages I realize that massage does in fact help…….temporarily. The surgeon that “performed” my surgeries now has a history realized after 23 years of totally DISABLING people with different skeletal conditions that in a more “sophisticated” medical facility the same condition was much helped or absolved.

    Back massage will help in my experience but, it helps for approximately 10 to 20 minutes and the damage done by surgery returns. I use massage, ice packs, hot showers/baths, heating pad, exercise, AND opioid medication on a very regular basis to stay as “pain free” as I can. I am still employed after two surgeries and a fusion surgery but, again during the day while I am “earning a living” all of the afore mentioned treatments for severe continuous pain…….are not practical..I have heard it said, you must not be in much pain. Pain is relative to the individual. When told by the orthopedic surgeon some 20 years age just a a day or two BEFORE my fusion surgery, “you are going to go on disability”, I was blown away! I replied, WHY am I even having the surgery? The incompetent surgeon told me that if I did not have surgery, there was a good chance that in time I may become “paralyzed” or partially paralyzed from the waist down. I understand that the best option was to have surgery but again, I feel worse on a daily basis now than before the fusion. NOT being a physician, I do understand that worse conditions can happen if surgery in similar conditions that I had can happen.

    If you go to a local, small town hospital to have serious surgery, of any type, you are narrowing your ‘odds” of a successful outcome. After years of practice, and that IS what you call it, maybe the surgeon will become better at his “art”. Not always. I am certainly not attempting to be negative, I am sharing my personal experience and the experiences of several good people I have come to know with very similar experiences and different causes of “real” chronic pain.

    Again massage, ice packs, etc. do help but with no real long term effect for me or friends that I have made in 20 years with similar outcomes for low back surgery.

    With the CDC “mis-guided-line” to eliminate opioids off “the street”, it is unjust to those with back pain from failed surgery, crippling disease contracted, and those unfortunate people even born with chronic pain invading their lives from birth or latter in life. Severe, continuous pain is unseen, not an issue, and not considered unless you are experiencing it. . I welcome pain relief in any alternative form that achieves results. There are real practicalities to opioid medication use. When “used” as a medicine, without abuse, vigorously monitored by physicians, (which have always been monitored for over prescribing higher scheduled medication) the chronic pain community regardless of recorded opioid medication use, has been damned to worse severe pain by those “who know best” for one and all.No individuality for anyones’ personal health condition and treatment. The “mis-guided_line” has condemned me with a 23 year record in only 2 different pain management facilities to an 80% reduction in medication. I was and had been on a dosage of 100 milligrams of opioid medication per 24 hour day for the last 4 years without asking for an increase of dosage and with only one opioid medication ……prescribed to me. ^ years ago I was taking the SAME medication at a 160 milligrams per day dosage. What happened? I realized that I only “needed”, 100 milligrams per day. There were worse days than others that I needed more medication but, we warrior through the worst days. Because 20 milligrams per day of medication that I now receive instead of 100 mgs, which has literally no effect on pain, I am now being titrated to a new opioid medication that costs at least $500.00 “out of pocket” for 30, extended release, advanced anti-abuse “technology” oral medication. The out of pocket cost for the medication I had used for many years, successfully, without abuse cost about $45.00 per month even with ZERO insurance coverage. Money issue CDC?

    I wrote my states representative in Washington and the reply to me was “if the issue comes before the national policy makers, I will give it consideration, thank you”. Write your state politicians, your federal representatives, and be relentless with it or we condemn future generations to a lifelong fight against of pain.

  10. Bob Schubring at 7:19 am

    In these kinds of studies it is essential to distinguish between correlation and causation.

    The study observes that a cohort of patients who received opioid pain medicines for their very serious and disabling back pain, got some benefit from massage, but possibly got less benefit from it than did other patients not treated with these medicines.

    That could be for 2 opposite reasons:
    Either
    1. The Opioid cohort have an extremely serious kind of back disorder that just doesn’t improve enough with massage, to make the pain go away and restore them to full health
    Or
    2. Some mysterious problem with opioid drugs, causes people not to heal up, when massaged.

    Senators Manchin and Schumer obviously believe Reason 2. They imagine that by taxing our medicines and making us hurt more, we can be persuaded to stop thinking about our pain and magically get well. Gov Christie of New Jersey seems to believe this nonsense also…and it’s going to be a priority for pain patients to teach or circumvent him, now that he’s on the Trump commission.

    Doctors generally prescribe opioids because of Reason 1. Patients who are so much sicker than everybody else, need the strong medicine, because everybody else’s medicine doesn’t help us.

    Now that we’re clear of the political implications, what does this say about massage therapy?

    Some states license massage therapists and there’s a training protocol. I’ve had excellent results from several licensed therapists who practice in Texas, when I’ve been visiting and had a back spasm impede my walking. In my native Michigan it’s much harder to find good therapy, because there’s no formal training program in massage therapy and therapists’ skills vary enormously. This lack of standardization is a big part of the reason why patients have to pay for massage out of a Health Savings Account, instead of an insurance plan…the insurer can’t really tell if the massage is effective, but the patient absolutely can. Of course, politicians begrudge the patient the money in that Health Savings Account, seeking to impose a tax on it, but that’s because they’re politicians and addicted to spending money that’s not theirs…it’s got nothing to do with the effectiveness of the therapy.

    Applying a little common sense here, is helpful.

    Massage squeezes muscles, loosens them, pushes toxins out of them into the lymphatic fluid, and muscles respond to this by hurting less and moving more freely.

    The patient whose condition is due to a damaged bone or disc, probably won’t benefit from massage.

    The patient whose condition is due to an injured muscle, probably will get a lot of benefit from massage.

    The patient whose bone or disc condition has caused a posture problem that then injured a muscle, is going to get some benefit from the massage, as it affects the muscle, but no benefit for that part of the pain that’s caused by the bone or disc.

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