Most people have experienced back pain–and many hope massage will relieve it. But not all forms of massage have been scientifically proven to help against low-back pain–at least according to the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) in information published on

Back pain often affects the lower back and can be a big physical and psychological burden. “The cause of back pain is not always immediately clear,” explains Prof. Peter Sawicki, the institute’s director. “But low-back pain usually gets better on its own within a few weeks.” Back pain is only rarely caused by a more serious health problem.

Classic massage, Thai massage and acupressure could help against low back pain

If low back pain does not get better on its own, massage therapy could be a worthwhile option. “Research suggests that classic massage, Thai massage and acupressure can relieve low-back pain that has lasted longer than several weeks,” says Sawicki.

In classic (Swedish) massage, the affected area of skin and muscles are massaged; in Thai massage, the limbs are pulled and stretched; and acupressure involves applying pressure to certain points on the body. “But relying on massage alone does not appear to be the best approach when it comes to back pain,” adds Sawicki. Research indicates people could benefit more if they combine massages with exercises and stretching. In some trials, this combination of approaches led to better pain relief and mobility compared to massage alone.

Not all massages are the same

“Not all forms of massage have been scientifically proven to help against chronic back pain though,” concludes Sawicki. “So, it is worth finding out about the different techniques before deciding to have a certain type of massage.”