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Massage therapy recommended by doctors for chronic back pain

A growing number of scientific studies suggest that massage therapy can provide meaningful relief for chronic lower back pain, which afflicts more than 26 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

And adults over 50 are the most likely to benefit from regular back massage, according to groundbreaking research at the University of Kentucky, published in the journal Pain Medicine.

Researchers followed 104 patients who had consulted their primary care providers about back pain lasting three months or more, defined as chronic. More than half reported significantly less pain after 10 one-hour massage therapy sessions — rising to 70 percent among those 50 or older. Most still showed improvement six months later.

Many doctors have traditionally prescribed opioids, which can be highly addictive, for persistent back pain. But rising concerns about the current epidemic of opioid addiction have encouraged a search for safe, effective alternatives, including massage.

The American College of Physicians, which represents primary-care doctors, recently revised its clinical guidelines to recommend non-drug treatments such as massage, spinal manipulation and acupuncture as the first response to persistent lower back pain.

Orthopedic surgeons are also “very focused” on properly controlling pain prescriptions, says Dr. Alan Hilibrand, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and professor of orthopedic surgery at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He sees “significant short-term benefit” in massage for chronic back pain.