Millions of people suffer from chronic low back pain and seek care from medical professionals. The easiest fix seems to be pain killers and muscle relaxants. But, according to researchers at Group Health Research Institute and the University of Washington in Seattle, massage therapy can help significantly.
Trials were conducted for a period of three months by Group Health on over 400 patients who had chronic low back pain with no identifiable cause. The patients were assigned to one of three groups based on treatment. The first was structural massage, the second was relaxation massage and the third was usual medical care. The structural massage involved techniques that addressed neuromuscular and soft tissue issues. Relaxation techniques were designed to promote relaxation and stress reduction through methods similar to Swedish massage – long strokes, kneading and deep circular movements. Those getting usual medical care were given medication or other forms of physical therapy. Those that received massage therapy underwent an hour of massage once a week for 10 weeks. All participants in the three groups were then evaluated after the treatments, then again after 6 months and, finally, after 1 year.
At ten weeks, those participants who received the massage treatments showed significant improvement in symptoms over those who received usual medical care. They were more mobile, more able to perform daily activities and spent less time in bed and used less anti-inflammatory medication.
The benefits of massage therapy persisted but gradually wore off by the time a year had elapsed, when all three groups had returned to their previous conditions. The underlying reasons for the improvement were not immediately clear, but it was evident from this study that massage therapy could be an important addition to other forms of treatment to improve the quality of life.