Massage Therapy for Back and Neck Pain

Back or neck pain can disrupt your day and affect your performance or ability to focus. The pain may improve on its own over time, but ignoring the discomfort can be difficult and may make the problem worse.

Some people turn to massage therapy for pain relief. But before you try, you need to know the following:

Research on Back Pain Massage: Does it Help?

There is evidence to support the use of massage therapy for pain relief, especially in the short a retrospective study published in Cochrane database of systematic reviewsFor example, scientists analyzed 25 previously published studies on the use of massage for low back pain and found that massage was more able to reduce subacute and chronic back pain (but not acute back pain) and improve function in the short term compared to inactive treatments.

Compared with other treatments considered beneficial, massage was found to provide better pain relief in both the short and long term, but no improvement in function. The researchers also noted that the most common adverse event was increased pain in 1.5% to 25% of the participants.

another comment, published in Annals of Internal Medicine In 2017, previously published trials of massage therapy for acute or chronic low back pain were examined. In eight of the nine trials, massage was more effective than other interventions such as exercise, relaxation therapy, acupuncture, physical therapy and manipulation.

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This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD.

Types of Massage for Back or Neck Pain

There are several types of massage commonly used for back or neck pain. Swedish massage is the most common type of massage in the United States. Swedish massage, also known simply as massage therapy, involves long, smooth strokes using oil or lotion. People who have never had a massage usually start with a Swedish massage.

Deep tissue massage targets the deeper muscles and connective tissue. This type of massage is used for chronically tense or painful muscles, postural problems, and repetitive strain injuries.

There may be some level of physical discomfort during a deep tissue massage because massage therapists work on deeper muscle layers. People may feel sore after a massage.

Another option is Shiatsu, a Japanese bodywork. Clothes are usually worn during acupressure treatment, so if someone prefers to keep their clothes intact, this is a great treatment.

The therapist applies localized finger pressure to points on the body. Since the pressure is localized, the pressure of acupressure feels deep.

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While it’s not a substitute for a massage from a trained therapist, in some cases a massage pad may be worth considering. They can be placed on many tables and chairs as well as on the sofa. Stores often have floor models to try.

If you have coverage for massage therapy, find out what types of massages are covered.

When to see your healthcare provider

Talk to your primary care provider about your back pain if you haven’t already. You should also seek medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • persistent back pain
  • back pain that wakes you up at night
  • changes in bowel or bladder function
  • numbness, weakness, or pain in the genitals, arms, or legs
  • fever, chills, sweating
  • any other unusual or new symptoms

Before starting any new therapy, including massage therapy, talk with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s right for you.

VigorTip words

If you have back or neck pain, your healthcare provider may recommend non-drug treatments. There is some evidence that massage can provide short-term pain relief, although evidence from larger clinical trials is needed.

Other evidence-based measures to consider include exercise, hot and/or cold compresses, mindfulness-based stress reduction, progressive muscle relaxation, spinal manipulation, acupuncture, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there different types of massage for back pain?

    Yes, there are different types of massage for back pain. Some common techniques include acupressure (shiatsu), deep tissue massage, neuromuscular therapy, sports massage, Swedish massage, myofascial release, and craniosacral therapy. If you have a medical condition that affects your lower back or neck, it’s a good idea to ask your healthcare provider for their opinion on which massage technique is right for you.

  • Can massage help with back pain?

    Massages can help relieve short-term back pain in many cases, but they are often less effective in treating chronic, long-term back pain. In these cases, it may be a good idea to work with a healthcare provider so they can offer a treatment plan for long-term relief alongside massage therapy.

  • How can I find a massage for back pain near me?

    You can find back pain massages near you by visiting the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) website. This resource can help you find some professionally trained and qualified massage therapists. Otherwise, you can talk to your healthcare provider, or even ask a friend for advice from a massage therapist.