Objectives: 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.
Methods: 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.
Results: 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.
Conclusions: 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.