Patients who receive complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies, of which massage therapy is one, as part of back-pain care, report widespread benefits beyond what is captured by standard measurements, according to new research.

“The goal of this research was to provide insight into the full range of meaningful outcomes experienced by patients who participate in clinical trials of [CAM] therapies,” according to a report published on

A total of 884 study participants who received CAM therapies completed post-treatment interviews. Of these, 327 provided qualitative data used in the analyses, the report noted.

The researchers found several positive outcomes identified by participants, but that “were not captured by standard quantitative outcome measures,” the report noted. These include:

• increased options and hope

• increased ability to relax

• positive changes in emotional states

• increased body awareness

• changes in thinking that increased the ability to cope with back pain

• increased sense of well-being

• improvement in physical conditions unrelated to back pain

• increased energy

• increased patient activation

• dramatic improvements in health or well-being

“Our findings suggest that standard measures used to assess the outcomes of CAM treatments fail to capture the full range of outcomes that are important to patients” the researchers noted in the report. “In order to capture the full impact of CAM therapies, future trials should include a broader range of outcomes measures.”

The study was conducted by researchers at the Center for Community Health and Evaluation, Group Health Research Institute, in Seattle, Washington.

“Unanticipated benefits of CAM therapies for back pain: an exploration of patient experiences” is running in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Apr;16(4):337-8).

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