Little is known about the effectiveness of therapeutic massage, one of the most popular complementary medical treatments for neck pain. Research was conducted to evaluate whether therapeutic massage is more beneficial than a self-care book for patients with chronic neck pain.

METHODS: 64 patients were randomized to receive up to 10 massages over 10 weeks or a self-care book. Follow-up telephone interviews after 4, 10, and 26 weeks assessed outcomes including dysfunction and symptoms. Improvements in dysfunction and symptoms were assessed. 

RESULTS: At 10 weeks, more participants randomized to massage experienced clinically significant improvement on the Neck Disability Index [39% vs. 14% of book group; and on the symptom bothersomeness scale (55% vs. 25% of book group). After 26 weeks, massage group members tended to be more likely to report improved function but not symptom bothersomeness. Mean differences between groups were strongest at 4 weeks and not evident by 26 weeks. No serious adverse experiences were reported.

CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that massage is safe and may have clinical benefits for treating chronic neck pain at least in the short term. A larger trial is warranted.