A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that massage is almost twice as effective than traditional treatment (medication and physical therapy) for chronic low back pain.
The interesting part here is, that the massage group was split into two. One group received full body relaxation massage (often called Swedish massage, and the only type of massage most therapists are allowed to give in France), while the other group received targeted deep tissue massage (structural massage which targets specific tissues, ligaments and joints related to the pain).
After ten weeks of weekly treatments, nearly two thirds of those receiving either type of massage said their low back pain was significantly improved or had gone. For those receiving traditional treatment the number was only a third. In some cases the effects from the massage recipients lasted for half a year or even longer.
The really interesting part from this study is that full body relaxation massage is just as effective as targeted deep tissue massage therapy.
By promoting relaxation and well-being throughout the entire body, the areas which experience pain also begin to relax and let go of the tensions. As a relaxation massage therapist it’s not uncommon for me to see people relax and release tension in their back and shoulders while I’m still only working on the legs.
Our body is a unity, all tied together, and tensions held in one area can easily affect how the rest of the body feel. One simple and common example of this is when people have tension head-aches. The tension is held in the shoulders and neck, but the pain is felt on the head. Massaging the head will relieve some of the pain, but getting the tensions out of shoulders and neck will often take that pain completely away.
While this study only looked at Swedish massage (as a relaxation massage style), I’m convinced that any massage which promotes a full body relaxation and works on the entire body will yield the same results. Future studies will hopefully show this to be true.
It’s no surprise to me to hear that relaxation massage is just as effective as targeted deep tissue massage when treating chronic low back pain. It is great though that now scientific studies support this. And to be honest, even greater that it’s now scientifically shown that massage is more effective than traditional medication and physical therapy to deal with issues like this.
So next time you’re suffering from low back pain (and most of us will experience that at some point in our lives), consider getting a massage, be it targeted therapeutic massage or “just” relaxation massage, before resorting to pain-killers. Of course, if there’s no relief from the massage, or that you suspect underlying reasons for your pain, consult your doctor. This study only looked at participants who a had chronic low back pain with no identifiable cause.