Massage Therapy for Pain Relief

Massage Therapy for Pain Relief

FLASH: Pain is a common problem, so much so, deaths from opioid addiction are at an all-time high, killing an estimated 47,600 Americans in Y 2017.

As of June 2017, opioids became the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.

Notably, massage is just one of many alternative pain treatments that can be helpful.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Y 2016 included 60 high-quality and 7 low-quality studies that looked into the use of massage for various types of pain, including muscle and bone pain, headaches, deep internal pain, fibromyalgia and spinal cord pain.

The review reveals massage therapy relieves pain better than getting no treatment at all, and when compared to other pain treatments such as acupuncture and physical therapy, massage therapy still proved beneficial.

Specifically, studies have shown massage therapy can relieve pain associated with the following issues:

Tension headaches and migraines— In one study, participants who received two 30-min traditional massages for5 weeks reported a decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks compared to controls who did not receive massage therapy. They also had fewer sleep disturbances and testing revealed an increase in serotonin.

In another, the effect of Thai massage which focuses on compression, stretching, pulling and rocking motions7 was assessed on patients with either chronic tension headaches or migraines.

Participants received either ultrasound treatment or 3 Thai massage sessions per week for 3 weeks. Those receiving Thai massage reported an increase in pain pressure threshold, while those in the ultrasound group experienced a decrease. Both groups had a significant reduction in migraine intensity.

Fibromyalgia — The National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association recommends massage for fibromyalgia pain, noting it can ease symptoms.9

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 9 randomized controlled trials involving 404 patients looking at the effects of massage therapy for fibromyalgia concluded this, “Massage therapy with duration 5 weeks had beneficial immediate effects on improving pain, anxiety and depression in patients with FM [fibromyalgia]. Massage therapy should be one of the viable complementary and alternative treatments for FM.”

Cancer pain — According to the Australian Cancer Council,1 massage therapy can be helpful for relieving side effects associated with conventional cancer treatment, citing evidence showing massage can reduce pain, fatigue, nausea, anxiety and depression in cancer patients.

The Council notes that while some worry cancer may spread through massage, such fears are unfounded, and light massage “can safely be given to people at all stages of cancer,” as “the circulation of lymph from massage or other movement does not cause cancer to spread.”

A scientific paper discussing massage therapy for cancer patients published in Current Oncology in Y 2007 also noted that massage is “very safe” and that “complications are rare … Adverse effects were associated mainly with massage delivered by laypeople and with techniques other than Swedish massage.”

One of the largest observational studies on massage and cancer was done at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which evaluated symptom scores for pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety, nausea and depression among 1,290 cancer patients. Patients had the option of 3 styles of massage: Swedish, light touch and foot massage. Findings revealed “Symptom scores declined in severity by approximately 50%. Swedish and light touch massage were found to be superior to foot massage.”

Back pain — A number of studies also support the use of massage for back pain. Among them are the following:

◦A 2017 study reported that 49.4% of patients with persistent lower back pain who received 10 massage sessions over a 12-week period were clinically improved at 12 weeks, and of those, 75% were still clinically improved at 24 weeks.1

◦A 2011 study1 concluded massage therapy (one hour of weekly sessions for 10 weeks) “may be effective for treatment of chronic back pain, with benefits lasting at least six months.” Both relaxation and structural massage were helpful, providing about the same amount of benefit.

◦A 2016 study1 evaluating the effect of Thai massage on patients with upper back pain lasting at least three months found the treatment significantly decreased muscle tension and pain intensity at the end of the treatment session.

◦A 2016 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Library looking at 25 trials, a majority of which were funded by nonprofit organizations, concluded massage was better than inactive controls for acute, sub-acute and chronic low back pain. When it came to function, massage was effective for sub-acute and chronic pain but not acute cases.

◦A 2007 study found patients who had low back pain for at least 6 months who received 30-min massages 2X a week for 5 weeks reported less pain, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance than controls who received relaxation therapy instead.

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