New research reveals that massage can relieve neck pain if performed by a professional therapist for the correct length of time. This research is good news for the many individuals who suffer from ‘persistent neck pain’, whether it is from an accident, sitting at the computer for many years, or poor sleeping positions.
Study researcher, Dr Karen Sherman, a senior scientific investigator at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, tested the effects of a month of massage on people with chronic neck pain. The outcomes of the trial showed that a substantial amount of massage was required to receive significant benefits. One-hour sessions, two or three times a week gave the best results.
“…60 Minutes of massage is better than 30, and you want to do multiple treatments a week for the first four weeks,” Dr Sherman said.
Neck pain is particularly common as there are so many causative factors:
- trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident
- poor posture
- poor ergonomics in the workplace
- degenerative diseases
- chronic muscle strain
- abnormalities in the joints or muscles
Anti-inflammatories are often prescribed for sufferers of persistent neck pain. In severe cases, stronger medications are used such as pain killers, anticonvulsant drugs, and even antidepressants. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for ongoing neck pain for both the psychological relief and often, pain response. (The older style, tricyclic antidepressants are still used effectively for pain response. The new, more popular type of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) aren’t as effective on pain). Sherman reported that for many though, drugs were not the right answer.
In the past, research on the efficacy of massage for neck pain had given inconsistent results. On the positive side, Dr Sherman had witnessed studies where, in as little as four weeks, subjects had reaped positive benefits. Sherman decided to dig deeper and perform a more rigorous study. She specifically wanted to ascertain the the duration of the treatment and frequency of massage required to gain a positive outcome.
For the study, 228 men and women were randomly assigned to one of six groups. All participants were aged between 20 and 64 years. Some groups received a 30 minute massage two or three times per week, while others received a one-hour massage one, two or three times per week. Unfortunately for one comparison group, they received no massage!
Those who received massage, on any scale, received benefits. Individuals receiving massage three times a week were found to be almost five times as likely to have noticeable improvements in function and more than twice as likely to report a significant decrease in pain.
Individuals who received shorter or less frequent massage sessions did not reap such significant benefits, the authors of the study noted.
Dr Sherman’s study is considered to be an important contribution to understanding the massage treatment necessary to relieve persistent cervical (or neck) pain.
Not all massage is the same though. It is recommended that cervical massage should only be given by a trained professional and not a friend or family member. If massage is performed incorrectly, it can cause muscle spasms or irritate nerves in the area, compounding neck pain issues.
Professional massage therapy treatments in this study also involved assessment of the patient’s range of movement as well as compensatory habits due to neck pain. Further trials have now been established to ascertain the long-term benefits of massage on neck pain.
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