Massage for mechanical neck disorders

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jul 19:(3):CD004871. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004871.pub3.


Background: Mechanical neck disorders (MND) are common, disabling and costly. Massage is a commonly used modality for the treatment of neck pain.

Objectives: To assess the effects of massage on pain, function, patient satisfaction and cost of care in adults with neck pain. To document adverse effects of treatment.

Search strategy: Cochrane CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, MANTIS, CINAHL, and ICL databases were electronically searched, without language restriction, from their inception to September 2004

Selection criteria: Studies using random or quasi-random assignment were included.

Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently conducted citation identification, study selection, data abstraction and methodological quality assessment. Using a random-effects model, we calculated the relative risk and standardized mean difference.

Main results: Nineteen trials met the inclusion criteria. Overall, the methodological quality was low, with 12/19 assessed as low-quality studies. Trials could not be statistically pooled because of heterogeneity in treatment and control groups. Therefore, a levels-of-evidence approach was used to synthesize results. Assessment of the clinical applicability of the trials showed that the participant characteristics were well reported, but neither the descriptions of the massage intervention nor the credentials or experience of the massage professionals were well reported. Six trials examined massage as a stand-alone treatment. The results were inconsistent. Of the 14 trials that used massage as part of a multimodal intervention, none were designed such that the relative contribution of massage could be ascertained. Therefore, the role of massage in multimodal treatments remains unclear.

Authors' conclusions: No recommendations for practice can be made at this time because the effectiveness of massage for neck pain remains uncertain. Pilot studies are needed to characterize massage treatment (frequency, duration, number of sessions, and massage technique) and establish the optimal treatment to be used in subsequent larger trials that examine the effect of massage as either a stand-alone treatment or part of a multimodal intervention. For multimodal interventions, factorial designs are needed to determine the relative contribution of massage. Future reports of trials should improve reporting of the concealment of allocation, blinding of outcome assessor, adverse events and massage characteristics. Standards of reporting for massage interventions, similar to CONSORT, are needed. Both short- and long-term follow-up are needed.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Massage / methods*
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic