New research out of the Touch Research Institutes supports a 2001 study that found massage therapy to be more effective than relaxation therapy for reducing pain, anxiety and sleep disturbances caused by low-back pain, and for increasing range of motion.

In the study, 30 adult volunteers with low-back pain were randomized into either a massage-therapy or a relaxation-therapy group. The massage group received a 30-minute massage twice per week for five weeks. Participants in the relaxation-therapy group were taught a relaxation exercise and asked to practice it for 30 minutes twice per week for five weeks. Study questions and range-of-motion tests were administered prior to and after the first and last days of the study.

This study also tested for job absenteeism and productivity during the five weeks.

Trained therapists using Biotone Spa Replenishing Light Body Oil conducted the massage sessions. Recipients first lay prone and rested their ankles on a small cushion. They received general massage strokes across the back; long, gliding strokes up the legs toward the torso; and kneading, pressing and releasing movements to the backs of the thighs and knees. Laying supine, they received gliding strokes and kneading of the neck muscles; stroking, kneading and pinching of the abdominal muscles; kneading and twisting of the trunk muscles; and stroking, kneading, pressing and releasing to the muscles in the front of the legs and ankles.

Participants in the relaxation group were trained to use progressive muscle-relaxation exercises that included tensing and then relaxing large muscle groups.

Stress and pain were tested with the Profile of Mood States Depression Scale, State Anxiety Inventory and a visual analog scale representing pain from none to worst possible. Range of motion was tested by measuring trunk flexion. A sleep scale was also used.

Following the first session, the massage-group participants reported less depressed mood, less pain and anxiety and experienced an immediate increase in trunk flexion. After five weeks these results persisted, and participants reported fewer sleep disturbances. Absenteeism and productivity were not affected in either group. 

“These data … suggest that massage therapy effectively reduces pain, sleep disturbances and the anxiety and depressed mood states associated with lower back pain,” observed the study authors.

Reprinted with permission from Touch Research Institutes and study authors Tiffany Field, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Miguel Diego and Monica Fraser. This study was published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.