Lower back pain may be a familiar discomfort for you. It is one of the most common conditions in the Western world. Martin et al. (2008) explained that over 300 billion dollars are spent annually in the United States for the treatment of lower back pain. Chronic sufferers may not only experience debilitating pain, but additional symptoms such as headaches and depression. Kumar et al. (2016) wanted to research the effects of Ayurvedic massage on chronic lower back pain.
Ayurveda is a traditional, holistic Indian medicine. It includes treatments such as nutritional guidance, thermotherapy, herbal medicine, and much more. It is not uncommon to find doctors in Southern Asia regularly using this medicine, especially for the treatment of chronic pain. Ayurvedic medicine has seen an increase in popularity across Western countries, specifically external treatments such as massage. This is the reason why the researchers decided to test Ayurvedic massage on patients with chronic lower back pain.
For the controlled clinical trial, a sample of 64 adults was used. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: an Ayurvedic massage therapy group or a standard physical therapy group. However, over the course of the study, some participants dropped out. The most common reason was inability to return to the research center, or a perceived lack of benefit from the study. 3% of the Ayurvedic group dropped out, while 22% of the physical therapy group was lost.
The intervention lasted for a total of four weeks, where the first two weeks were spent undergoing therapy and the next two used for rest and observation. During the first two weeks, participants received six sessions of therapy. Six sessions were used as this is the average prescription within the German healthcare system, where the study took place. Researchers primarily measured for pain intensity, although they also measured quality of life, level of physical functions (or level of disability stemming from back pain), and psychological effects such as depression, anger, and fatigue. Measurements were taken before the intervention and during weeks 2 and 4 of the intervention.
The Ayurvedic massage sessions lasted for a total of 65 minutes. The massage therapist first applied a warm, medicated oil (Sahacharadi Taila) while using light manual pressure. Next, stuffed cotton bags (Kizhi) were applied with rhythmic movements across the lower back and gluteal region. Lastly, a gentle massage was provided on the lower back, gluteal region, and any specific pain areas. Patients then took a warm shower and relaxed for 30 minutes. For the physical therapy group, participants were given heated packs to apply to the lower back for 20 minutes. Afterwards, they received a light massage. Participants in this group then also relaxed for 30 minutes.
After the 4 weeks of intervention, the Ayurvedic massage group reported a higher decrease in lower back pain at both weeks 2 and 4. The Ayurvedic group’s decrease in pain was 18.7 points better than that of the physical therapy group. For psychological effects, the Ayurvedic group also reported less fatigue and anger. For other effects and quality of life, no significant changes were found. The Ayurvedic group also reported an increase in physical functions, but these results were not found to be significant.
Future research is suggested to confirm the findings of the study, especially for longer periods of intervention. In addition, the researchers note that massage is only one part of Ayurvedic medicine, and that applying additional aspects of Ayurveda may shed more light on the traditional medicine’s effectiveness. Overall, though, it appears that Ayurvedic massage may provide some much-needed relief for patients of chronic lower back pain.
Kumar, S., Rampp, T., Kessler, C., Jeitler, M., Dobos, G. J., Lüdtke, R., Meier, L., & Michalsen, A. (2016). Effectiveness of Ayurvedic Massage (Sahacharadi Taila) in Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. doi:10.1089/acm.2015.0272
Martin, B. I., Deyo, R. A., Mirza, S. K., Turner, J. A., Comstock, B. A., Hollingworth, W., & Sullivan, S. D. (2008, June). Expenditures and Health Status Among Adults With Back and Neck Problems. JAMA, 299(6). doi:10.1097/01.brs.0000320200.72604.9f