Michael Watson, CNHC ChairComplementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) Chair Michael Watson sets out what the recent inclusion of massage in this updated NICE guideline means for the sector

What are NICE guidelines?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the organisation that recommends which treatments doctors and other clinicians should use for specific conditions. These recommendations are included in documents called NICE guidelines, which NICE produces following an in-depth review of the relevant evidence.

Massage recommended as part of treatment package for low back pain and sciatica

NICE has recently updated its guidance for the treatment of low back pain and sciatica. The good news is that it has included a recommendation for massage under the heading of ‘Manual therapies.’

The new recommendation (13) says that massage can be used as part of a treatment plan so long as the plan includes exercise. Here’s the full wording:

            13. Consider manual therapy (manipulation, mobilisation or soft tissue techniques such as massage) for managing low back pain with or without sciatica, but only as part of a treatment package including exercise, with or without psychological therapy.

What do these guidelines mean for massage practitioners?

When doctors and other clinicians are making decisions about what treatment to recommend for low back pain and sciatica, massage can be included, so long as exercise is part of the treatment package.

This does not mean that massage is now going to be top of the list when clinicians are devising a treatment plan for patients. However, it does mean that if a patient is being recommended to take exercise, then massage can also be included in the treatment plan.

NICE guidelines are extremely influential and impact the way doctors and other health care professionals think about treatments.

What about funding?

However, funding is not automatic. NICE makes recommendations about treatment options but funding depends on local priorities. Some areas may have a focus on musculoskeletal services but others won’t so although NICE has made this recommendation, patients will not necessarily have automatic access to funded massage services.

The recommendation may mean that GPs and other clinicians will be more open to the use of massage but in many cases it is likely that patients would have to fund sessions themselves.

Having said all of that, this is a positive step for massage therapy and paves the way for greater access to massage services around the UK.

Earle Abrahamson, MTI Chair

Comments from MTI

MTI Chair Earle Abrahamson is a CNHC registered massage therapist and member of CNHC’s Profession Specific Board for massage therapy.

Earle said: “I am really pleased to hear that massage has been recognised by NICE as a legitimate treatment option for patients with low back pain and sciatica. This is progress and I hope that it leads to referrals for massage treatment for patients in this situation. Clearly the research provided was sufficient to convince NICE to include it alongside exercise so that’s great news for our sector.”


CNHC registration and further information

The General Medical Council (GMC) has updated its guidance to confirm that doctors can refer to practitioners on Accredited Registers such as CNHC’s so if you are not registered you will be far less likely to receive any referrals where they do happen.

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