A weekly massage can be even more effective at relieving back pain than the usual treatments, like painkillers, drugs, and physical therapy, according to a new study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researchers found that when people with chronic back pain added a weekly massage to their standard care regimen, nearly one third of them experienced a reduction in pain—or a complete recovery—at the end of 10 weeks. They also found themselves using fewer anti-inflammatory meds than a second group of people who didn’t opt for the massage.
Surprisingly, the study didn’t find that one type of massage had more health benefits than the other: People who received the common “Swedish”-type rub down experienced the same reduction in pain than those who had “structural massages” (a more specialized technique aimed at correcting soft tissue abnormalities).
Even though the researchers, led by Daniel C. Cherkin, Ph.D., a senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute, are still stumped on how a rubdown offers relief, they remain convinced of massage’s merits.
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“Historically, people pooh-poohed massage as a ‘feel good’ treatment, suggesting that it’s not really valid or worth paying for. But in fact, a significant number of people with chronic back pain that hasn’t responded to other treatments are getting benefits from massage,” he says.
Still, there’s no need to run to the massage table at the first tinge of pain. Oftentimes, back pain goes away on it’s own within a few days and weeks, says Cherkin. Plus, the usual treatments can work well for many people. But if the pain hasn’t subsided after a month, it might be time to try getting a weekly massage—especially if you haven’t responded to the normal types of therapy, he says.
Bonus: Structural massage is sometimes covered by insurance companies and Swedish massage is widely available at massage studios.