13th November 2018

Traditional home massage found to be far superior to anti-inflammatory drugs for chronic upper back pain

Summary

Although anti-inflammatory drugs are heavily advertised and routinely prescribed for pain syndromes a recent clinical trial found them to be far less effective than simple home massage for the relief of upper back pain.  The home massage not only produced a far superior at reduction in pain, it also produced significant improvements in ranges of motion and a reduction in muscular tightness and tenderness.

The pain reduction and functional improvements gained from the self massage indicate that myofascial (muscle and related tissues) issues  are a significant part of  these pain syndromes, and shows that self massage at home can be a useful part of their management.  Musculoskeletal pain syndromes can be quite complex issues though, so we see the best use of self massage not as a substitute for popping a pill, but as part of a professional management that properly takes care of the underlying causes of pain syndromes and reduced function

The trial

Subjects

The 60 subjects (two groups of 30) were aged from 18-60 and had suffered from upper back pain for at least 12 weeks.  The only other significant inclusion criteria was the presence of at least one myofascial trigger point (those tender lumps in tight muscles masseurs love to find).  Studies show that practically all long term back pain suffers have trigger pints anyway.

The treatments

The self massage

The subjects used a hooked cane called a Wilai stick (https://www.researchgate.net/figure/285207835_fig2_Fig-2-Holding-a-Wilai-massage-stick-TM) to apply massage along the muscles muscles beside the spine of the upper back area.  Using the stick, pressure was applied until mild pain was experienced, then released after five seconds.  This was repeated five times for each point.  The self massage was followed by a two minute stretching routine.  The treatment was repeated each day for 5 days. 

The anti-inflammatory drugs

Subjects took 400mg of ibuprofen three times daily for five days

The measurements

The following measurements were used

  • the level of pain using a 1-10 scale
  • the amount of pressure on muscles needed to elicit tenderness
  • ranges of neck movement

The results

Over the five days the self massage group experienced a reduction in pain from 5.4 to 0.08 on the 1-10 scale, plus excellent clinical improvements in tissue hardness/tenderness and ranges of motion.  In contrast, the ibuprofen group experienced a smaller reduction in pain, and no improvement in any other aspects.

Clinical discussion

Apart from showing that pharmaceutical companies and the medical industry are making massive fortunes  pushing drugs that kill people while safer, less expensive and more effective solutions are available,  the trial results tells us the following.

The involvement of myofascial issues

The self massage used emulates the professional massage technique known as “trigger point therapy “or  “pressure point therapy”.  The excellent results  show that trigger points and other muscular problems are a major part of upper back/neck pain and  stiffness. 

The usefulness of self/home massage

The positive results support the use of home massage.  However, as with home massage using our DrGraeme massagers we are not suggesting that it should be seen as an alternative to “popping pills”.   Pain syndromes usually have many contributing factors and effects.  These all roll in together to make a complex problem.  The muscular issues can very important, with long standing well entrenched issues can require extensive therapy over time.  This is where home massage becomes a very useful tool.  However, a professional management will need to address the other issues as well.

Reference

Wamontree, Phanida. et.al.  THE EFFECTS OF TRADITIONAL THAL SELF-MASSAGE USING WILAI MASSAGE STICKTM IN PATIENTS ON UPPER TRAPEZIUS WITH MYOFASCIAL TRIGGER POINTS: A RANDOMIZED CONTROL TRIAL. J. Phys. Ther. Sci. 27: 3493-3497, 2015

 




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About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and ... read more