“The studies reviewed were small (124 people, on average), notes Andrea Furlan, M.D., Ph.D., the review’s lead author and a scientist at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto. “I really believe massage is effective,” she says, “but we need bigger and better-designed clinical trials before we can be sure.”
So, how might massage ease discomfort? Scientists haven’t pinpointed a mechanism, but they think it might stimulate nerves that mute pain signals. Another theory suggests that massage may trigger the release of pain-reducing hormones called endorphins.
Research suggests that massage may have benefits beyond pain relief. For instance, a 2010 analysis of 17 clinical trials found that it may help relieve depression.
“Trying massage for back pain probably won’t hurt, and might help,” says Lipman. But if you try it, tell your practitioner beforehand about medical conditions you have and medicine you take. Massage isn’t appropriate for everyone. People taking blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin or generic), for example, should avoid deep tissue massage because intense pressure could cause bruising. “