A scientist by background, I have to admit I am always a bit sceptical about alternative therapies, or things that haven’t been scientifically proven, yet. 

However, in the course of my life, I’ve had to deal with chronic pain such as backaches, neckaches and migraines. While traditional medicine offers solutions such as the use of painkillers, or specific treatments such as drugs called triptans for recurring migraines, it is always not pleasant to have to rely on heavy medication to treat chronic pain. Hence, my personal research of treatments that could at least help a little bit with managing these problems that have been affecting my quality of life for the past ten years. 

Chronic pain can be tough

Throughout my quest to find a complementary treatment, I have found incredible relief from the use of massage therapy. Not every massage is the same. I tried so many massage therapists in so many different countries that I hardly remember them all. However, not all of them have helped me. I found that some only relaxed me, while some others really made the pain fade away. The only thing they all had in common is that they recognized that my neck problems (and the migraines partially associated with it) was mainly due to work-related stress, and bad posture triggered by an excessive use of the computer or the weird positions in which laboratory-based scientists find themselves working (pipetting liquids from one container to the next on quite tall benches, for instance). 

Intrigued by my observations of the effectiveness of massages in helping with pain management, I decided to dig a little bit into the literature to find whether there is scientific evidence that can support my private ‘experimental’ findings. 

In particular, I found some interesting insights on a specific page of the National Institute of Health Website. Apparently, a lot of research has been carried out on the subject, but it’ not conclusive [often preliminary or conflicting]. However, there seem to be enough evidence to support the claim that massages might constitute a low-risk treatment that can help with quite a few ailments, including back pain.

A 2008 research review and 2011 NCCIH-funded clinical trial concluded that massage may be useful for chronic low-back pain.

Massage may help with chronic neck pain, a 2009 NCCIH-funded clinical trial reported.

Clinical trials on the effects of massage for headaches are preliminary and only somewhat promising.

From the NIH webpage

While scientific research is extensive for the treatment of low-back pain through massages, only a few articles describe the effect of the therapy on upper-back pain. The most recent literature review speaks about this in a dedicated paragraph. Even though not completely conclusive, experimental trials carried out on a blind randomised clinical trial, seems to offer preliminary evidence of at least partial effectiveness of the treatment. Other studies have been carried out on the effect of massages on chronic neck pain, and even in this case it appears that patients can benefit from the therapeutic effect, at least in the short term.

Neckaches can often be related to computer work

As I also observed , not all massages are the same. They do not only carry distinct names (Traditional Chinese massage, tuina, Swedish, Thai, Sport-massages, and so on): the way they are delivered also differs. For instance, while a Swedish massage therapist uses long and circular strokes, a tuina massotherapist presses more firmly on specific points (generally the same used in acupuncture). 

No matter what massage you decide to try, I agree with the NIH authors: you should always look for services offered by officially recognised massotherapists. From my personal experience, each of us might prefer a massage over another, and might find a technique more helpful than the other: my husband could not withstand the pressure of tuina, for instance, while I adore the heavy strokes they use! 

I feel reassured to learn that the effects I observed during the treatments I received were likely not placebo! I am now even happier to continue my quest to the discovery of the perfect massage, while I look forward to further, and more extensive scientific research in the field!

And what about you? what massages have you tried? Has it worked? Our audience needs your precious input/advice! Don’t be shy and comment below 🙂 !

Daniela

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Disclaimer: For references to this article, please access original documents through in-text hyperlinks.

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