It can take weeks or months to completely recover from a flare-up of low back pain. Adding massage to conventional back care can reduce pain and speed the return to normal activities, explains the March 2015 Harvard Men's Health Watch.
"Based on research to date, massage therapy generally seems to be helpful, when compared with doing nothing, and it tends to be very safe," says Peter Wayne, research director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It's worth a try."
On the downside, insurance coverage for massage therapy varies, so many people end up paying the full cost. Choosing a massage therapist also presents some challenges.
For one thing, practitioners vary considerably in their level of training and experience. There are also several varieties of massage, sometimes known as "touch therapy," to choose from. Swedish massage, with its long, gliding strokes and kneading of the major muscle groups, is the most common type of massage offered, but there are many others.
The best studies to date have found that massage brought more relief than usual care steps such as physical therapy or self-help at home (such as rest, ice, heat, and over-the-counter pain relievers) as well as acupuncture.
Tips for back massage
Here are some tips for getting the best results from massage:
- Check with a doctor to make sure massage is safe for the back condition.
- Ask the massage therapist (or a physical therapist) for advice about ways to sit, walk, or work that may prevent future back pain.
- Find a local medical center that has an alternative or integrative medicine program. These typically offer massage by qualified practitioners.
- Ask family members, friends, or coworkers to recommend a good massage therapist.
- Check if the massage practitioner is licensed to practice and certified by a national organization such as the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org).
Read the full-length article: "Sore back? Try a massage"
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.