According to the American Massage Therapy Association, low-back pain is one of the most common complaints of consumers in the country. I’m sure you and I can both name a handful of family and friends who have been taking perscription medication for pain management for a while now. Have you ever stopped to wonder how much a drug regime like this could cost over a prolonged period of time? A $20, $30, $40 co-pay? Once a month or more? Or how much it would cost without health insurance? And what about side effects? What are the long-term effects of potent prescription drug use (even when taken properly in accordance with doctor’s orders)? These are some heavy questions that (literally) weigh on the shoulders of thousands of Americans. In honor of National Massage Therapy Awareness Week, we would like to share with you a newly published study that tested the effectiveness of traditional pain therapies.

Courtesy of the American Massage Therapy Association, a study conducted by Dr. Daniel Cherkin, Director of Group Health Research Institute, examined the effectiveness of massage versus more traditional therapies like painkillers and muscle relaxers on lower back pain. According to Dr. Cherkin, “Chronic back pain is among the most common reasons people see doctors and alternative practitioners, including massage therapists. It’s also a common cause of disability, absenteeism and ‘presenteeism,’ when people are at work but can’t perform well.” Here is a quick look at the parameters of the study and the very interesting results:

The study comprised 401 patients aged 20 to 65 years old with nonspecific chronic low-back pain and compared the effectiveness of either relaxation or structural massage versus usual care, including medication and physical therapy. Participants were asked about their abilities to perform daily activities and then randomly assigned to receive one of three treatments.

One group received full-body relaxation massage, often called Swedish massage, and another received focused deep tissue massage, where specific pain-related tissues, ligaments and joints are targeted. The third group received therapies including painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or physical therapy. Those receiving massage were given a one-hour massage once a week for 10 weeks.

After 10 weeks, the researchers again surveyed the participants about their symptoms and mobility, and again at six months and one year. The two groups of patients receiving massage therapy reported their back pain was significantly improved or gone altogether. “We found that patients receiving massage were twice as likely as those receiving usual care to report significant improvements in both their pain and function,” explains Cherkin. “After 10 weeks, about two-thirds of those receiving massage improved substantially, versus only about one third in the usual care group.”

Although previous studies on massage therapy and low-back pain have concentrated primarily on the effectiveness of deep tissue massage, researchers are hopeful about the success of relaxation massage modalities offering significant benefits. Two reasons are that relaxation massage is oftentimes more widely available and more cost-effective.

We at Spa Week have been saying this for a while now – trips to the spa can help make you healthier and happier. Now we have even more proof that there are safe and effective alternatives to “fix-it-all” pills and paying for expensive physical therapy sessions. We’re not saying never go back to your doctor again, but do consider a full-range of health options with your physician and start a dialogue with your doctor discussing the risks before undergoing any new health regime.  And don’t forget – it’s National Massage Therapy Awareness Week so go out there and book a Spa Week Extended appointment and celebrate, pain-free!