This study's long-term objective is to identify effective treatments for with neck pain. Many Americans have found conventional medical treatments ineffective for this common and costly problem and are increasingly trying complementary and alternative treatments, including therapeutic massage. Despite the growing popularity of massage, its effectiveness for treating neck pain remains unclear, largely because of the poor quality of research in this area. A major deficiency of previous studies has been their use of low "doses" of massage that massage therapists consider inadequate. Unfortunately, the numbers of minutes per massage session, sessions per weeks, or weeks of treatment necessary for massage to have beneficial or optimal effects are not known. This study is designed to address these gaps in our knowledge by determining, for persons with chronic neck pain: 1) the optimal combination of number of treatments per week and length of individual treatment session, and 2) the optimal number of weeks of treatment. In this project, 228 persons with chronic non-specific neck pain will be randomized to a wait list control group or 4 weeks of treatment with one of 5 different dosing combinations (2 or 3 30-minute treatments per week or 1, 2, or 3 60-minute treatments per week). At the end of this 4 week primary treatment period, participants initially receiving each of the 5 dosing combinations will be randomized to a secondary treatment period of either no additional treatment or 6 weekly 60-minute massages. The primary outcomes, neck-related dysfunction and pain, will be assessed by blinded telephone interviewers 4, 10, and 26 weeks post-randomization. To better characterize the trajectory of the persistence of treatment effects, these interview data will be supplemented with outcomes data collected by mailed questionnaire at 8, 14, 18 and 39 weeks. Comparisons of outcomes for the 6 groups during the primary treatment period will identify the optimal weekly dose, while comparisons of outcomes during the secondary treatment period will determine if 10 weeks of treatment is superior to 4 weeks. The results of this study will: 1) guide the development of a massage treatment protocol to be used in a full-scale trial evaluating the effectiveness of therapeutic massage for chronic neck pain, 2) serve as a model for future dosing studies of massage and bodywork, and 3) help interpret the adequacy of the dosing of massage used in past studies of massage for neck pain.

Public Health Relevance

Therapeutic massage is a commonly used treatment for neck pain, but its effectiveness is unknown. This study is designed to find out what the best dose of massage for chronic neck pain is so that future clinical trials can include a dose that would be considered optimal.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Research Project (R01)
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Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation Sciences Study Section (MRS)
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Khalsa, Partap Singh
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Group Health Cooperative
United States
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Sherman, Karen J; Cook, Andrea J; Wellman, Robert D et al. (2014) Five-week outcomes from a dosing trial of therapeutic massage for chronic neck pain. Ann Fam Med 12:112-20