Both Swedish massage with aromatic ginger oil and traditional Thai massage resulted in significant immediate, short- and long-term improvements in low back pain. However, Swedish massage was found to be more effective in both the short- and long-term improvement of pain and disability, according to recent research.

The study, “The effectiveness of Swedish massage with aromatic ginger oil in treating chronic low back pain in older adults: A randomized controlled trial,” involved 140 people ages 60 and older who had been diagnosed with chronic low-back pain lasting more than 12 weeks.

These subjects were randomly assigned to receive either Swedish massage with ginger oil or traditional Thai massage. Both forms of massage were provided by trained therapists during 30-minute sessions that took place twice a week for five weeks. The traditional Thai massage was applied through the clothing with no oil. The Swedish massage was applied to the skin using aromatic ginger oil, which consisted of two percent essential ginger oil with jojoba oil.

“Ginger has been used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic for musculoskeletal pain,” stated the study’s authors. “Three clinical trials reported short-term beneficial pain reduction effects of ginger extract taken orally for knee or neck pain, but no study has examined the use of ginger for back pain.”

The primary outcome measure for this study was pain intensity, as measured using a visual analog scale for low-back pain and the McGill Pain Questionnaire for musculoskeletal pain. The visual analog scale was used before and after each massage to determine any immediate effects. The McGill Pain Questionnaire was used before the start of the intervention, then again six weeks and 15 weeks after the completion of the intervention, in order to assess short- and long-term effects.

Results of the research showed that subjects in both groups experienced similar significant reductions in pain immediately after both the Swedish massage with ginger oil and the traditional Thai massage. Both groups also showed reductions in pain on the McGill Pain Questionnaire at the immediate, short- and long-term assessments. However, participants who received the Swedish massage with ginger oil showed a greater reduction in back-pain intensity than those who received traditional Thai massage.

Both groups showed a significant reduction in disability across all three time periods, but the Swedish massage with ginger oil resulted in a significantly greater reduction in disability as compared to the traditional Thai massage.

“In summary, the current study concludes that although both [Swedish massage with ginger oil] and [traditional Thai massage] are effective in reducing pain and improving disability across the period of short and long term, [Swedish massage with ginger oil] is more effective,” conclude the study’s authors.


Authors: Netchanok Sritoomma, Wendy Moyle, Marie Cooke and Siobhan O’Dwyer.

Sources: School of Nursing and Midwifery, Centre for Health Practice Innovation, Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia; College of Nursing, Christian University of Thailand. Originally published in 2014 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 22, 26-33.