Back pain is common in the U.S., affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point in their lives, according to Medline Plus, a publication of the National Institutes of Health, and massage therapy has been shown to improve back pain.

In new research, investigators from the Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, Harvard Medical School Osher Research Center set out to examine the associations between the perceived helpfulness of various complementary and alternative therapies (CAM), of which massage is one, for back pain.

Other CAM therapies include chiropractic, herbs, tai chi, yoga and meditation.

The investigators used data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, according to a press release published on

Among the results:

• Approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population used CAM to treat their back pain in 2002.

• Sixty percent of respondents who used CAM for back pain perceived a “great deal” of benefit.

• The factor associated with perceived benefit from CAM modalities was reporting that a reason for using CAM was that “conventional medical treatment would not help.”

• The two factors associated with less perceived benefit from CAM modalities were fair-to-poor self-reported health status and referral by a conventional medical practitioner for CAM.

“The majority of respondents who used CAM for back pain perceived benefit,” the investigators noted. “Specific factors and therapies associated with perceived benefit warrant further investigation.”

The article ran in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

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