Length of Massage Matters for Neck Pain Relief

Chronic neck pain patients may find symptom relief through multiple weekly massages

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) People who have lasting neck pain could get some relief by making the right phone call, which might be to a licensed massage therapist.

A recent study found that those with chronic neck pain were able to achieve significant improvements in neck-related dysfunction and pain with multiple hour-long massages every week for one month.

The researchers also found that the length of the massage and the frequency of the massage mattered. Massages shorter in length and less frequent did not lead to any meaningful improvements in neck-related dysfunction or pain.

"Speak with your doctor about therapeutic massages for neck pain."

This study was led by Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH, with the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. The research team wanted to determine the most effective dose of massage for individuals with chronic neck pain.

A total of 228 participants were recruited for this study from Group Health, an integrated healthcare system in Seattle, and from the general Seattle population. These participants were between the ages of 20 and 64 years and had chronic neck pain that lasted at least three months.

Individuals were excluded from the study if their neck pain had an identifiable cause or was too mild, as determined by a score of less than 4 on a pain intensity scale that ranged from 0-10 and a score of less than 5 on the Neck Disability Index with scores ranging from 0-50, with higher scores indicating greater pain or disability. They were also excluded if they had recently received a massage.

Study participants were randomly split into five groups with varying four-week massage schedules. These schedules included 30-minute massage treatments either two or three times per week or 60-minute massage treatments once, twice or three times per week. There was also a control group of participants who received no massage treatment.

Dr. Sherman and colleagues accounted for several factors that could have influenced pain outcomes, including age, gender, education, race, employment status, income and quality of life.

While the 30- and 60-minute massages were different, each massage treatment included a range of motion assessment, a hands-on check-in and a massage applied directly to the neck.

Improvements in neck pain–related dysfunction and pain intensity were observed to determine the effectiveness of massage treatments.

The researchers found that participants on the shorter (30-minute) massage schedules did not have significantly better improvements in dysfunction or pain when compared to those in the control group.

On the other hand, participants who received 60-minute massages saw significant improvements in neck-related dysfunction and pain. Those who received 60-minute massages twice a week were more than three times as likely to experience improvements in neck-related dysfunction and more than twice as likely to experience improvements in neck pain intensity when compared to those in the control group.

Individuals who received an hour-long massage three times per week were about five times more likely to experience improvements in neck-related dysfunction and more than twice as likely to experience improvements in pain intensity when compared to the control group.

The authors of this study noted that physicians who recommend massage as treatment for chronic neck pain should make sure to recommend an effective amount.

This study was published in the March/April issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

The authors reported no competing interests.

Review Date: 
March 17, 2014
Last Updated:
March 19, 2014