Healing Hands: Massage Therapy May Ease Chronic Back Pain

People over 50 tended to respond best, study finds

Chronic low back pain can be a challenge to treat, but new research suggests that massage therapy may provide some relief.

“Current medical guidelines actually recommend massage therapy prior to the use of opioid medications for lower back pain,” explained William Elder, the study’s principle investigator.

“Yet even with those guidelines, physicians and nurse practitioners are not recommending massage therapy,” said Elder. He’s with the University of Kentucky’s departments of family and community medicine and clinical services.

Low back pain is a common problem, and for most people, it’s short-lived. But for about 15 percent of people with low back pain, the problem becomes chronic and lasts more than three months, the study authors said.

There aren’t a lot of effective treatment options for chronic back pain, and physicians often prescribe opioid painkillers such as OxyContin or Percocet to ease the pain. But those drugs come with a risk of addiction.

Other possible treatments include exercise, steroid injections, behavior changes, chiropractic, acupuncture and surgery, according to the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

The new study sought to simulate real-world back pain and treatment. Researchers asked physicians to recommend massage for people with chronic back pain.

Just over 100 study volunteers were then paired with an approved, experienced massage therapist in their area who assessed the problem and created a treatment plan. The study participants received 10 treatments, which they set up directly with their therapist.

More than half of the participants had less pain after 12 weeks and many continued to report reduced pain after three months.

The research also showed that massage therapy worked better with patients aged 50 years and older, although younger people benefited, too.

“These results are exciting because it shows that most doctors can refer their patients for massage as a treatment. It’s applicable to the real world,” said Elder.

“Some medical providers have taken interest in massage, but most don’t know which type would be helpful. We learned that just referring the patient to a massage therapist and letting them work to select the therapy is effective,” he added.

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SOURCE: HealthDay News
Gia Miller