Monday 5th August, 2019
  Categories: General

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


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.

This shows that self massage at home can be a useful part of the management of musculoskeletal pain. These 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


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), which studies show practically all long term back pain suffers have an yway.

The treatments

The self massage

The subjects used a hooked cane called a Wilai stick to apply massage along the muscles beside the spine in the upper back area. Pressure was applied using the stick until mild pain was experienced. This was hed for 5 seconds then released. This procedure 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.

What the Wilia Stick does

The self massage used emulates the professional massage technique called ischaemic compression, which is often known as “trigger point therapy “or “pressure point therapy”. This is an excellent therapy, though can be painful when applied by a skilled therapist. Our article on foam rollers discusses the attempts to emulate this therapy using pressure applied by a foam roller. A major concern was that unskilled people may cause damage by trying to emulate that pain inappropriately. On the other hand the protocol of using only five second applications of mild pain appears to be much safer.

The usefulness of self/home massage

The positive results support the use of home massage. As discussed in our article on trigger points and other chronic pain syndromes many muscular issues requiring therapy become very entrenched requiring a large number of applications of therapy over time. The techniques used in this trial certainly help make this possible. It is also one of the main reasons we built our massagers for home use.



Further information

Practitioner version of this article

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Dr Graeme

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