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Psychother Psychosom. 2004 Jan-Feb;73(1):17-24.

A randomized clinical trial of the treatment effects of massage compared to relaxation tape recordings on diffuse long-term pain.

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Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.



Long-term musculoskeletal pain is a common problem in primary health care settings that is difficult to treat. Two common treatments are mental relaxation and massage. Scientific studies show contradictory results. Furthermore, many studies lack long-term follow-up even though it is a chronic disorder. The purpose of this randomized clinical trial was to assess possible effects of massage as compared to listening to relaxation tapes in conditions of 'diffuse' and long-term musculoskeletal pain.


129 patients from primary health care suffering from long-term musculoskeletal pain were randomized to either a massage or mental relaxation group, and assessed before, during and after treatment.


During treatment there was a significant improvement in the three main outcome measures: self-rated health, mental energy, and muscle pain only in the massage group as compared to the relaxation group. However, at the 3-month post-treatment follow-up, there was a significant worsening in the outcome measures (time x group effect p < 0.05) back to initial rating levels in the massage group as compared to no changes in the relaxation group.


Massage, but not mental relaxation, is beneficial in attenuating diffuse musculoskeletal symptoms. Beneficial effects were registered only during treatment. This lack of long-term benefits could be due to the short treatment period or treatments such as these do not address the underlying causes of pain. Future studies of long-term pain should include longer treatment periods and post-treatment follow-up. It might also be worthwhile assessing the long-term benefits from booster treatment after the initial intense treatment period.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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