Timing Is Key to Massage's Benefits for Neck Pain: Study03/14/14
FRIDAY, March 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Massage can relieve
neck pain if it's done often by a professional therapist and for
the correct length of time, according to new research.
One-hour sessions two or three times a week appear to be best,
said study researcher Karen Sherman, senior scientific investigator
at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.
"In the short term, 60 minutes of massage is better than 30, and you want to do multiple treatments a week for the first four weeks," she said.
Her study, which tested the effects of a month of massage, is
published in the March/April issue of the
Annals of Family Medicine.
Persistent neck pain is common and stems from numerous causes --
car accidents, sleeping in awkward positions or spending hours
hunched over a computer, among them, Sherman said.
Doctors often recommend anti-inflammatory medicines, but these
drugs frequently don't provide enough relief, she noted. "People
with back and neck pain aren't usually satisfied with what they get
from their doctor, so they are looking around for something that
works," Sherman explained.
Previous studies of massage for neck pain have produced
conflicting results, so Sherman's team decided to look closer.
Specifically, they wanted to determine what dose of massage is
ideal. In a previous study, Sherman had found that benefits of
massage were evident after four weeks.
For the new study, she randomly assigned 228 men and women, aged
20 to 64, to one of six groups. These included 30-minute massages
two or three times weekly, one-hour massages one, two or three
times weekly, and a comparison group receiving no massage.
Assessing neck functioning and pain levels a week after
treatment ended, the researchers determined that patients getting
one hour of massage three times a week showed the most gains after
four weeks of massage.
Compared to those who got no massage, "people getting massage
three times a week were almost five times as likely to have a
clinically meaningful (meaning important or noticeable) improvement
in function and over twice as likely to report a clinically
meaningful decrease in pain," Sherman said.
Many patients who get therapeutic massage for chronic neck pain
may not reap benefits if they undergo shorter or less frequent
sessions, the authors suggested.
Jeanette Ezzo, a massage therapist and researcher in Takoma
Park, Md., called the study "an important contribution to
understanding the massage dosage necessary to relieve neck pain."
Ezzo has published research on the effectiveness of complementary
medicine practices, including massage.
Nationwide, the average cost for a one-hour massage by a
professional massage therapist is $65, according to the American
Massage Therapy Association. However, in large cities the fee can
be much higher.
Insurance coverage varies, said Sherman. Whether massage therapy
would work in elderly patients isn't known as the average age of
her patients was in the 40s.
Sherman cautioned against having a family member or friend
attempt to massage away your neck pain. "We used extremely
experienced massage therapists," she said. Treatment sessions also
assessed range of motion and looked at how the patient's body
compensated for the neck pain, which the average person is unable
to do, she said.
Dr. Fredrick Wilson, a spine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic,
stressed the need to use a professional massage therapist. "If done
incorrectly, [massage] can actually cause muscle tightening and
spasm," he said.
For neck or back pain, "it seems the training and experience
make a difference in the amount of pain relief patients get," he
However, Wilson said he is waiting for a study that shows
longer-lasting effects before he recommends massage for patients
complaining of neck pain. The authors agreed that studies with
longer follow-up are warranted.
People with chronic neck pain might also ask their doctor about
special neck exercises, Sherman said.
Neck pain accounts for more than 10 million medical visits a
year in the United States, according to background information in
the study. When patients were followed up one to five years later,
at least half reported persistent or recurrent problems, previous
For more about massage's effects on health, visit the
American Massage Therapy Association.
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