Attention veterans: VA wants to give you a neck massage

Jonathan Kaupanger
September 20, 2018 - 4:10 pm

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VA is looking for veterans with chronic neck pain to participate in a pain management trial to test a very relaxing type of therapy.  Neck massage.

“We’re comparing two different types of massage,” says Dr. Matthew J. Bair, core investigator at the VA Center for Health Information and Communication (CHIC) at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, IN and Associate Professor at Indiana University School of Medicine.  “One group of veterans is receiving a massage therapist delivered program of massage.  The other group is receiving what we call caregiver delivered.  And we’re comparing which of those might be more effective in terms of relieving pain severity” 

Still in the recruitment part of the trial, Bair is looking for 460 veterans to participate.  “You’d think it would be for everyone,” Bair says with a slight chuckle.  “It’s not for everyone because some people have to come to the VA twice a week, and that’s a barrier.  Coming to the VA for a massage, you’d think it would be a good thing, but just the driving and parking can be barriers.  So maybe the caregiver might be more effective because you can do that in the comfort of your own home.  That’s why we’re doing the study, to see which can be more effective.”

For the trial, caregivers could be a spouse, adult child or even a friend.  They would receive training on how to deliver some massage techniques to the veteran with the chronic neck pain.

This trial is part of an overall effort at VA to research combination and sequencing of treatments for chronic pain.  According to Bair, a single treatment might be effective for some people, but that effect will most likely be a modest one.  He believes the key is trying to find the right combination of treatments for each individual patient. 

In the next ten years, Bair believes VA will have much more access to complementary treatments.  He points out that many medical centers already have chiropractors and massage therapist on staff.  “We need, as a treating provider, a lot more tools in our toolkit,” Bair says.  “Some patients will respond to a given treatment, while others will not respond.  It’s nice and necessary to have other treatment options.”

If you have chronic neck pain and are interested in participating in this trial, talk to your primary care provider.  If your neck pain is notated in your electronic medical record, you might receive a letter from Bair and his team, inviting you to take part.

So far, Bair has learned one big thing from the trial.  “Veterans love massage,” he says.  “They want more of it and are sort of upset when the program has to stop.”

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