Massage Therapy: A Drug Free Alternative for Back Pain Relief

Recently we had a lively discussion on our social media pages about whether or not insurances should cover massage therapy. Most of you think it should be covered because it has proven to be so effective in relieving your pain.

Adding strength to the case that it should be covered is evidence that shows massage therapy may be as-or more effective than- standard medical treatment for nonspecific back pain.

massage therapy
Massage therapy has been shown to clinically reduce pain.

Proven pain relief

Recently a study of 401 back pain patients demonstrated that massage works as well as the standard treatment for back pain - acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and physical therapy.

The research was headed by epidemiologist Daniel Cherikin, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. The patients in the study:

  • Had back pain for 3 months or longer.
  • Did not have an identified cause for back pain.

The patients were randomly assigned to one of 3 treatments over a period of 10 weeks:

  • Standard treatment : acetaminophen or an NSAID, plus physical therapy once a week for 1 hour.
  • Relaxing (also called Swedish style) massage once a week for 1 hour.
  • Structural massage (also called deep tissue massage) focusing on specific areas of pain and targeting ligaments and joints once a week for 1 hour.
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Results showed that after one year, all three groups reported similar decreases in pain and improved ability to perform daily activities.

Interestingly, at 10 weeks and again at 6 months, the patients receiving massage therapy reported less pain and greater ability to perform daily activities than the patients on standard therapy. The type of massage made no difference.

In other words, massage worked sooner than standard therapy to relieve back pain and to get people back to their normal daily activities.

Have you tried regular massage therapy to help with your back pain? If not, maybe it’s time to give it a try.

Learn more:


  1. "A Comparison of Massage Therapy and Usual Medical Care for Chronic Low Back Pain." Annals of Internal Medicine. 2011 Jul;155(1):I-28.rt
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