Randomized clinical trial assessing whether additional massage treatments for chronic neck pain improve 12- and 26-week outcomes

Spine J. 2015 Oct 1;15(10):2206-15. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.06.049. Epub 2015 Jun 19.


Background context: This is the first study to systematically evaluate the value of a longer treatment period for massage. We provide a framework of how to conceptualize an optimal dose in this challenging setting of nonpharmacologic treatments.

Purpose: The aim was to determine the optimal dose of massage for neck pain.

Study design/setting: Two-phase randomized trial for persons with chronic nonspecific neck pain. Primary randomization to one of five groups receiving 4 weeks of massage (30 minutes 2x/or 3x/wk or 60 minutes 1x, 2x, or 3x/wk). Booster randomization of participants to receive an additional six massages, 60 minutes 1x/wk, or no additional massage.

Patient sample: A total of 179 participants from Group Health and the general population of Seattle, WA, USA recruited between June 2010 and August 2011 were included.

Outcome measures: Primary outcomes self-reported neck-related dysfunction (Neck Disability Index) and pain (0-10 scale) were assessed at baseline, 12, and 26 weeks. Clinically meaningful improvement was defined as greater than or equal to 5-point decrease in dysfunction and greater than or equal to 30% decrease in pain from baseline.

Methods: Clinically meaningful improvement for each primary outcome with both follow-up times was analyzed using adjusted modified Poisson generalized estimating equations (GEEs). Secondary analyses for the continuous outcomes used linear GEEs.

Results: There were no observed differences by primary treatment group at 12 or 26 weeks. Those receiving booster dose had improvements in both dysfunction and pain at 12 weeks (dysfunction: relative risk [RR]=1.56 [1.08-2.25], p=.018; pain: RR=1.25 [0.98-1.61], p=.077), but those were nonsignificant at 26 weeks (dysfunction: RR=1.22 [0.85-1.74]; pain: RR=1.09 [0.82-1.43]). Subgroup analysis by primary and booster treatments found the booster dose only effective among those initially randomized to one of the 60-minute massage groups.

Conclusions: "Booster" doses for those initially receiving 60 minutes of massage should be incorporated into future trials of massage for chronic neck pain.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01122836.

Keywords: Chronic neck pain; Clinical trial methods; Complementary medicine; Dosing; Massage; Randomized clinical trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / therapy*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01122836