April 4th 2017

Real-world massage therapy produces meaningful results for treating patients with low back pain.

Real-world massage therapy is an effective treatment option for patients with chronic low back pain.

Although most patients experience rapid improvement in their lower back pain, one-third report persistent back pain, and 15% develop chronic low back pain with significant physical limitations.

Prior studies examining massage efficacy were conducted in controlled research situations. But in the first-of-its-kind current study published inPain Medicine, patients were referred to a massage therapist by a physician.

The massage therapist designed and provided a serious of 10 massages in a clinical treatment environment to mimic the experience of individuals who choose to seek massage therapy in the real world. The massages were given at no cost to the patients, the authors noted.

Additionally, the investigators examined different characteristics associated with patients who are more likely or less likely to experience clinically meaningful change from massage.

The results of the study showed that baby boomers as well as older generations tended to be more likely to experience clinically meaningful changes. Obese patients experienced significant improvements, but the improvements were not retained over time.

In some cases, patients who took opioids experienced improvements in their pain from disability but were 2 times less likely to experience clinically meaningful change compared with individuals who were not taking opioids.

Although the findings show promise, the investigators stressed that more studies need to be done.

“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,” said co-first author Niki Munk.

Further investigation is needed to replicate the study’s findings and to conduct a cost benefit analysis of massage therapy, the authors noted. Massages are generally not covered by insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare.

“Massage is an out-of-pocket cost,” Munk 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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