Massage for lower back pain

Research confirms that some forms of massage help against low-back pain
But not all techniques live up to the promises made for them

Most people have experienced back pain – and many hope that massage will relieve it. But not all forms of massage have been scientifically proven to help against low back pain. That is what the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) pointed out in information published on today.
Back pain often affects the lower back and can be a big physical and psychological burden. “The cause of back pain is not always immediately clear,” explains Professor Peter Sawicki, the Institute’s Director. “But low back pain usually gets better on its own within a few weeks.” Back pain is only rarely caused by a more serious health problem.

Classic massage, Thai massage and acupressure could help against low back pain
If low back pain does not get better on its own, massage therapy could be a worthwhile option. “Research suggests that classic massage, Thai massage and acupressure can relieve low back pain that has lasted longer than several weeks,” says the Institute’s Director. In classic (Swedish) massage the affected area of skin and muscles are massaged, in Thai massage the limbs are pulled and stretched, and acupressure involves applying pressure to certain points on the body. “But relying on massage alone does not appear to be the best approach when it comes to back pain”, adds Sawicki. Research indicates that people could benefit more if they combine massages with exercises and stretching. In some trials this combination of approaches led to better pain relief and mobility compared to massage alone.

Not all massages are the same
“Not all forms of massage have been scientifically proven to help against chronic back pain though,” concludes Sawicki. “So it is worth finding out about the different techniques before deciding to have a certain type of massage.” An overview of the most common forms of massage is now available on

The researchers pointed out that the main goal of massage therapy can be very different. For example, some therapists are aiming to help the person (and their muscles) relax, while others are more focused on stretching or working on the body in other ways. Although the trials studied various massage techniques, there were not enough comparisons of treatments to show which forms of massage might be the most worthwhile for people with different problems.

Many of the treatments had mixtures of several elements – like massage oils, stretching, and more than one type of massage technique. The researchers concluded that acupressure (by hand or using an instrument to apply the pressure) may be particularly effective, but more research is needed to be sure. Based on the small amount of research so far, it seems that Thai massage achieves similar results to classic massage techniques. However, foot reflexology massage does not appear to relieve back pain or improve mobility. The people in the trials did not have any serious adverse effects. Some reported having pain during or shortly after treatment. And some had an allergic reaction to a massage oil and got a rash.