Two massage techniques are useful in treating lower back pain

Patients who want to treat their lower back pain through non-medicinal means may be interested in two massage techniques that a recent study shows to be effective, as published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Most massage therapists in the U.S. are trained in Swedish techniques, according to researchers in Seattle and Portland, who wanted to explore the effects of relaxation massage and structural massage.

The spinal column is made up of the vertebrae, the facet joints and the intervertebral discs that cushion the spaces in between the bones. Back pain can be the result of disease, injury or age-related degeneration to any of these structures, as well as to the surrounding muscles and ligaments.

Back pain may be acute or chronic. Acute back pain is usually a consequence of a sudden injury. Though it can be severe, acute pain usually resolves within six weeks, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a division of the National Institutes of Health.

Chronic back pain lasts more than three months, may come on slowly or quickly and may linger even after the initial cause is resolved.

It is best to approach back pain with conservative treatments, if possible. This may include pain medication, acupuncture, certain exercises or massage therapy. Researchers in Seattle and Portland wanted to test the effectiveness of two massage techniques on chronic lower back pain: relaxation massage and structural massage, which is intended to treat problems with soft tissue, such as joints and muscles.

The researchers enrolled more than 400 patients diagnosed with nonspecific chronic lower back pain. They were divided into three groups: relaxation massage, structural technique and patients who received no special care. Participants were asked to report changes in their symptoms, time needed off work or school, use of medication and other measurements of disability and patient satisfaction.

After a year of treatment, patients who received either type of massage had greater improvements in their back pain. The benefits lasted at least six months and diminished over time. However, some benefits were still present after a year.

It isn't clear why these two massage techniques work, but the researchers speculate that relaxation works on the nervous system, while structural massage may bring about healthy changes in the treated tissue. Further studies will be needed to figure out why different techniques of massage therapy work, various factors that determine the effectiveness of massage and how well less experienced therapists can treat patients, the researchers said.