Background: Chronic back pain is a major public health problem and the primary reason patients seek massage treatment. Despite the growing use of massage for chronic low back pain, there have been few studies of its effectiveness. This trial will be the first evaluation of the effectiveness of relaxation massage for chronic back pain and the first large trial of a focused structural form of massage for this condition.
Methods and design: A total of 399 participants (133 in each of three arms) between the ages of 20 and 65 years of age who have low back pain lasting at least 3 months will be recruited from an integrated health care delivery system. They will be randomized to one of two types of massage ("focused structural massage" or "relaxation massage"), or continued usual medical care. Ten massage treatments will be provided over 10 weeks. The primary outcomes, standard measures of dysfunction and bothersomeness of low back pain, will be assessed at baseline and after 10, 26, and 52 weeks by telephone interviewers masked to treatment assignment. General health status, satisfaction with back care, days of back-related disability, perceived stress, and use and costs of healthcare services for back pain will also be measured. Outcomes across assigned treatment groups will be compared using generalized estimating equations, accounting for participant correlation and adjusted for baseline value, age, and sex. For both primary outcome measures, this trial will have at least 85% power to detect the presence of a minimal clinically significant difference among the three treatment groups and 91% power for pairwise comparisons. Secondary analyses will compare the proportions of participants in each group that improve by a clinically meaningful amount.
Conclusion: Results of this trial will help clarify the value of two types of massage therapy for chronic low back pain.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00371384.