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Is there any scientific evidence that massage can assist with pain?

January 6th, 2019

Based on my experience treating clients there is little doubt in my mind that a massage can relieve pain in tight or overworked muscles, but there is also growing scientific evidence that it can help relieve chronic pain.

A study published in Annals of Family Medicine in 2014 found that 60-minute therapeutic massage sessions two or three times a week for four weeks relieved chronic neck pain better than no massage or fewer or shorter massage sessions.

A study of 262 patients published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that massage was far superior to acupuncture or patient education for relieving back pain. After 10 weeks, 74 percent of patients said massage was “very helpful.” Only 46 percent for those who received acupuncture and about 17 percent of those who read a self-help book had the same response. Massage patients were also four times less likely than other patients to report being bedridden with pain. The authors concluded that “massage might be an effective alternative to conventional medical care for persistent back pain.”

In a true test of its value, massage has even been shown to ease the chronic pain suffered by cancer patients. A study of more than 1,200 patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that massage reduces symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, and pain by about 50 percent.

Studies suggest that for women in labour, massage provides some pain relief and increased their satisfaction with other forms of pain relief but the evidence isn’t conclusive.

In a 2012 study there was evidence that massage may help with pain due to osteoarthritis of knee.

References

Cherkin DC, Eisenberg D, Sherman KJ, Barlow W, Kaptchuk TJ, Street J, Deyo RA. Randomized trial comparing traditional Chinese medical acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and self-care education for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Apr 23;161(8):1081-8.

Sherman KJ, Cook AJ, Wellman RD, et al. Five-week outcomes from a dosing trial of therapeutic massage for chronic neck pain. Annals of Family Medicine. 2014;12(2):112–120.

Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Hawkes RJ, et al. Randomized trial of therapeutic massage for chronic neck pain. Clinical Journal of Pain. 2009;25(3):233–238.

Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, et al. A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2011;155(1):1–9

Furlan AD, Imamura M, Dryden T, et al. Massage for low-back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008;(4):CD001929

Perlman AI, Ali A, Njike VY, et al. Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized dose-finding trial. PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30248

Corbin L. Safety and efficacy of massage therapy for patients with cancer. Cancer Control. 2005;12(3):158–164.

Wilkinson S, Barnes K, Storey L. Massage for symptom relief in patients with cancer: systematic review. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2008;63(5):430–439.

Jones L, Othman M, Dowswell T, et al. Pain management for women in labour: an overview of systematic reviews. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012; (3):CD009234

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