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Massage Therapy, It feels good, but what does the research say?

The use of massage therapy in the treatment of low back pain (LBP) is very popular. Although LBP is a benign and self-limiting condition, many patients look for some type of therapy to relieve their symptoms. Massage therapy is thought to improve a patients condition by offering the symptomatic relief of pain through physical and mental relaxation, and increasing a patients tolerance to pain through the release of endorphins (one of the body’s own painkiller’s.

A study published in the highly recognized, Spine Journal (2009), looked at the most recent studies published on massage therapy and LBP, to provide healthcare providers and the general public an up-to- date review on the effectiveness of massage therapy in the treatment of low back pain.

The study concluded;

  1. Massage therapy is beneficial in the treatment of subacute and chronic LBP.
  2. Massage therapy combined with education and exercises was more beneficial then massage therapy as a stand alone treatment.
  3. Massage Therapy was more effective then placebo, sham treatment and no treatment at all.
  4. Massage therapy was more effective when delivered by a licensed therapist.
  5. Massage therapy (specifically acupressure massage) was more effective then physiotherapy in long
  6. and short pain relief.

What is important to note is that this study looked at massage therapy in the treatment of subacute and chronic conditions. Massage therapy in the acute phase, when tissues are inflamed has not shown to be effective and were not reviewed in this study.

The question is, if studies have shown the effectiveness of massage therapy in the treatment of LBP, when is a good time to incorporate massage therapy? As the study suggests, massage therapy should be incorporated during the subacute stage or when the initial inflammatory symptoms have subsided. During the acute phase of treatment, often muscle tightness acts as a protective mechanism for the body, preventing certain movements that would aggravate your condition.

Also, massage stimulates blood flow, and during the inflammatory stage of your condition, increasing blood flow can increase inflammation, which will aggravate the problem. Conversely, in chronic conditions, loosening tight muscles and increasing blood flow are both very important in your treatment.

Bottom line, massage therapy is a great treatment modality and adjunct to chiropractic, exercise and education. It might even be your missing link.

About the Author

A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto (DC) and the University of Western Ontario (BSc.), Dr. Vincelli is also a Certified Active Release Techniques Provider (ART®), Certified Medical Acupuncture Provider and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). As a Chiropractor, Dr. Vincelli incorporates chiropractic treatments with soft tissue therapy (ART®), physical therapies, exercise (CSCS), rehabilitation and education to help his patients with the relief of pain, the alleviation of muscle tension and stiffness and the return to their daily activities faster.

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