Listed in Issue 162


FURLAN and COLLEAGUES, Institute for Work & Health, 481 University Avenue, Suite 800, Toronto, ON, Canada, M5G 2E9. Review [59 refs] and assess the effects of massage therapy for non-specific low-back pain.


Low-back pain is one of the most common and costly musculoskeletal problems in modern society. Proponents of massage therapy claim it can minimize pain and disability, and speed return to normal function.


The authors searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL from their beginning to May 2008. They also searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2006, issue 3), HealthSTAR and Dissertation abstracts up to 2006. There were no language restrictions. References in the included studies and in reviews of the literature were screened. Selection Criteria: The studies had to be randomized or quasi-randomized trials investigating the use of any type of massage (using the hands or a mechanical device) as a treatment for non-specific low-back pain. Data Collection And Analysis: Two review authors selected the studies, assessed the risk of bias using the criteria recommended by the Cochrane Back Review Group, and extracted the data using standardized forms. Both qualitative and meta-analyses were performed.


Thirteen randomized trials were included. Eight had a high risk and five had a low risk of bias. One study was published in German and the rest in English. Massage was compared to an inert therapy (sham treatment) in two studies that showed that massage was superior for pain and function on both short and long-term follow-ups. In eight studies, massage was compared to other active treatments. They showed that massage was similar to exercises, and massage was superior to joint mobilization, relaxation therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture and self-care education. One study showed that reflexology on the feet had no effect on pain and functioning. The beneficial effects of massage in patients with chronic low-back pain lasted at least one year after the end of the treatment. Two studies compared two different techniques of massage. One concluded that acupuncture massage produces better results than classic (Swedish) massage and another concluded that Thai massage produces similar results to classic (Swedish) massage.


Massage might be beneficial for patients with subacute and chronic non-specific low-back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education. The evidence suggests that acupuncture massage is more effective than classic massage, but this need confirmation. More studies are needed to confirm these conclusions, to assess the impact of massage on return-to-work, and to determine cost-effectiveness of massage as an intervention for low-back pain. [References: 59]


Furlan AD, Imamura M,  Dryden T and  Irvin E.   Massage for low-back pain.[update of Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(2):CD001929; PMID: 12076429]. [Review] [59 refs]  Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4): CD001929. 2008.

ICAN 2024 Skyscraper

Scientific and Medical Network 2

Cycle Around the World for Charity 2023

Climb Mount Kilimanjaro Charity 2023

top of the page