Massage is better than nothing for pain relief, according to a new review. The therapy may also be an acceptable choice for people considering other options like acupuncture and physical therapy.
"It should be considered at least for musculoskeletal pain as a viable option in the mix of pain management techniques in these areas," said Dr. Wayne Jonas, president and CEO of the Samueli Institute in Alexandria, Virginia.
"We couldn't say it's better than other kinds of therapies, but it did look like it was better than doing nothing to a considerable degree," he said.
The new review was funded by the Massage Therapy Foundation and conducted by the Evidence for Massage Therapy Working Group, which was led by the Samueli Institute.
The researchers write in Pain Medicine that pain is recognized as the most compelling reason for an individual to seek medical attention. Beyond affecting people physically, pain can also harm them socially, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Massage manipulates soft tissue to alleviate pain, and some people believe the relaxation tied to the therapy may help other aspects of the person's health like psychology, they add.
For the new study, the researchers searched databases of medical studies to find those testing massage for the treatment of pain. They included 60 high-quality studies and seven low-quality studies.
All of the studies were published between 1999-2013 and tested massage for muscle and bone pain, headaches, deep internal pain, chronic pain like fibromyalgia and spinal cord pain.
Three of four studies involving a total of 245 people with muscle and bone pain showed that compared to no therapy, massage had a very large effect on pain, the researchers found.
The group was able to make a strong recommendation for massage therapy, compared to no treatment.