Back to Browse Journals » International Journal of General Medicine » Volume 6

The effectiveness of massage therapy for the treatment of nonspecific low back pain: a systematic review of systematic reviews

Authors Kumar S, Beaton K, Hughes T

Published Date September 2013 Volume 2013:6 Pages 733—741

DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/IJGM.S50243

Received 20 June 2013, Accepted 25 July 2013, Published 4 September 2013

Saravana Kumar,1 Kate Beaton,1 Tricia Hughes2

1International Centre for Allied Health Evidence, School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia; 2Australian Association of Massage Therapists, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Introduction: The last decade has seen a growth in the utilization of complementary and alternative medicine therapies, and one of the most popular and sought-after complementary and alternative medicine therapies for nonspecific low back pain is massage. Massage may often be perceived as a safe therapeutic modality without any significant risks or side effects. However, despite its popularity, there continues to be ongoing debate on the effectiveness of massage in treating nonspecific low back pain. With a rapidly evolving research evidence base and access to innovative means of synthesizing evidence, it is time to reinvestigate this issue.
Methods: A systematic, step-by-step approach, underpinned by best practice in reviewing the literature, was utilized as part of the methodology of this umbrella review. A systematic search was conducted in the following databases: Embase, MEDLINE, AMED, ICONDA, Academic Search Premier, Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre, CINAHL, HealthSource, SPORTDiscus, PubMed, The Cochrane Library, Scopus, Web of Knowledge/Web of Science, PsycINFO, and ProQuest Nursing and Allied Health Source, investigating systematic reviews and meta-analyses from January 2000 to December 2012, and restricted to English-language documents. Methodological quality of included reviews was undertaken using the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine critical appraisal tool.
Results: Nine systematic reviews were found. The methodological quality of the systematic reviews varied (from poor to excellent) although, overall, the primary research informing these systematic reviews was generally considered to be weak quality. The findings indicate that massage may be an effective treatment option when compared to placebo and some active treatment options (such as relaxation), especially in the short term. There is conflicting and contradictory findings for the effectiveness of massage therapy for the treatment of nonspecific low back pain when compared against other manual therapies (such as mobilization), standard medical care, and acupuncture.
Conclusion: There is an emerging body of evidence, albeit small, that supports the effectiveness of massage therapy for the treatment of non-specific low back pain in the short term. Due to common methodological flaws in the primary research, which informed the systematic reviews, recommendations arising from this evidence base should be interpreted with caution.

Keywords: massage therapy, systematic review, evidence-based practice, complementary and alternative medicine

Download Article [PDF] View Full Text [HTML] 

Creative Commons License This work is published by Dove Medical Press Limited, and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution - Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License. The full terms of the License are available at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed. Permissions beyond the scope of the License are administered by Dove Medical Press Limited. Information on how to request permission may be found at: http://www.dovepress.com/permissions.php

Other articles by this author:

Integrating evidence into practice: use of McKenzie-based treatment for mechanical low back pain

Dunsford A, Kumar S, Clarke S

Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare 2011, 4:393-402

Published Date: 1 November 2011

Skills escalator in allied health: a time for reflection and refocus

Gilmore LG, Morris JH, Murphy K, Grimmer-Somers K, Kumar S

Journal of Healthcare Leadership 2011, 3:53-58

Published Date: 6 September 2011

Allied health assistants and what they do: A systematic review of the literature

Lucylynn Lizarondo, Saravana Kumar, Lisa Hyde, et al

Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare 2010, 3:143-153

Published Date: 19 August 2010