Furlan AD, Imamura M, Dryden T, Irvin E.
The objective of this review was to assess the effects of massage therapy for nonspecific low back pain. Thirteen randomized trials were included. Eight had a high risk and 5 had a low risk of bias. Massage was compared to an inert therapy (sham treatment) in 2 studies that showed that massage was superior for pain and function on both short- and long-term follow-ups. In 8 studies, massage was compared to other active treatments. They showed that massage was similar to exercises, and massage was superior to joint mobilization, relaxation therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, and self-care education. One study showed that reflexology on the feet had no effect on pain and functioning. The beneficial effects of massage in patients with chronic low back pain lasted at least 1 year after the end of the treatment. Two studies compared 2 different techniques of massage. One concluded that acupuncture massage produces better results than classic (Swedish) massage and another concluded that Thai massage produces similar results to classic (Swedish) massage.
Massage might be beneficial for patients with subacute and chronic nonspecific low back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education. The evidence suggests that acupuncture massage is more effective than classic massage, but this need confirmation. More studies are needed to confirm these conclusions, to assess the impact of massage on return-to-work, and to determine cost-effectiveness of massage as an intervention for low back pain.
Spine, 2009 Jun 25, online ahead of print