Cochrane Trusted evidence. Informed decisions. Better health

.Published:  12 September 2012 Authors:  Patel KC, Gross A, Graham N, Goldsmith CH, Ezzo J, Morien A, Peloso PMJ Primary Review Group:  Back and Neck Group

Massage for mechanical neck pain

Neck pain is common and can limit a person's ability to participate in normal daily activities. Massage is a widely used treatment for neck pain. In this review, it was defined as touching or manipulating the soft tissues surrounding the neck with the hand, foot, arm or elbow. There are a number of different types of massage. This review included studies that looked at Traditional Chinese massage, ischaemic compression, self-administered ischaemic pressure using a J-knob cane, conventional Western massage and occipital release, among other techniques. It did not include studies that examined techniques such as Reiki or Polarity.

We included 15 trials in this review that assessed whether massage could help reduce neck pain and improve function. Results showed that massage is safe, and any side effects were temporary and benign. However, massage did not show a significant advantage over other comparison groups. Massage was compared with no treatment, hot packs, active range-of-movement exercises, acupuncture, exercises, sham laser, manual traction, mobilization, and education.

There were a number of challenges with this review. Overall, the quality of the studies was poor and the number of participants in most trials was small. Most studies lacked a clear definition, description, or rationale for the massage technique used. Details on the credentials or experience of the person giving the massage were often missing. There was such a range of massage techniques and comparison treatments in the studies that we could not combine the results to get an overall picture of the effectiveness of massage. Therefore, no firm conclusions could be drawn and the effectiveness of massage for improving neck pain and function remains unclear.

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