Efficacy of massage therapy in chronic pain: a pragmatic randomized trial

J Altern Complement Med. 2003 Dec;9(6):837-46. doi: 10.1089/107555303771952181.


Background: Although classic massage is used widely in Germany and elsewhere for treating chronic pain conditions, there are no randomized controlled trials (RCT).

Design: Pragmatic RCT of classic massage compared to standard medical care (SMC) in chronic pain conditions of back, neck, shoulders, head and limbs.

Outcome measure: Pain rating (nine-point Likert-scale; predefined main outcome criterion) at pretreatment, post-treatment, and 3 month follow-up, as well as pain adjective list, depression, anxiety, mood, and body concept.

Results: Because of political and organizational problems, only 29 patients were randomized, 19 to receive massage, 10 to SMC. Pain improved significantly in both groups, but only in the massage group was it still significantly improved at follow-up. Depression and anxiety were improved significantly by both treatments, yet only in the massage group maintained at follow-up.

Conclusion: Despite its limitation resulting from problems with numbers and randomization this study shows that massage can be at least as effective as SMC in chronic pain syndromes. Relative changes are equal, but tend to last longer and to generalize more into psychologic domains. Because this is a pilot study, the results need replication, but our experiences might be useful for other researchers.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Back Pain / therapy
  • Chronic Disease
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Female
  • Headache / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / therapy
  • Pain Management*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome