Little is known about the effectiveness of therapeutic massage, one of the most popular complementary medical treatments for neck pain. A randomized controlled trial was conducted to evaluate whether therapeutic massage is more beneficial than a self-care book for patients with chronic neck pain.
Sixty-four such patients were randomized to receive up to 10 massages over 10 weeks or a self-care book. Follow-up telephone interviews after 4, 10, and 26 weeks assessed outcomes including dysfunction and symptoms. Log-binomial regression was used to assess whether there were differences in the percentages of participants with clinically meaningful improvements in dysfunction and symptoms (ie, >5-point improvement on the Neck Disability Index; >30% improvement from baseline on the symptom bothersomeness scale) at each time point.
At 10 weeks, more participants randomized to massage experienced clinically significant improvement on the Neck Disability Index [39% vs. 14% of book group; relative risk (RR)=2.7; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.99-7.5] and on the symptom bothersomeness scale (55% vs. 25% of book group; RR=2.2; 95% CI, 1.04-4.2). After 26 weeks, massage group members tended to be more likely to report improved function (RR=1.8; 95% CI, 0.97-3.5), but not symptom bothersomeness (RR=1.1; 95% CI, 0.6-2.0). Mean differences between groups were strongest at 4 weeks and not evident by 26 weeks. No serious adverse experiences were reported.
This study suggests that massage is safe and may have clinical benefits for treating chronic neck pain at least in the short term. A larger trial is warranted to confirm these results.