The best way to beat pain yet

Any excuse for a massage is a good one. The healing hands of a skilled masseuse can stimulate the immune system, spur healing and ease pain.

And if you're suffering from a stiff neck or back problems, regular massage sessions will often ease pain better than drugs and will do it without side effects (unless you count general relaxation and overall good feeling as a "side effect").

It's been backed by science before, and now new research shows how massage is especially effective at fighting off chronic neck pain.

In the age of computers, tablets and cell phones the majority of us spend a good part of our day with our head bent over one electronic device or another. And many of us have the stiff neck pain to prove it.

In the new study, patients with stiff neck pain who had hour-long sessions three times a week were nearly five times more likely to enjoy noticeable improvements in function and twice as likely to have meaningful drops in pain levels as patients who didn't get massages.

The key is in that timing and frequency, because shorter massages less often won't give you nearly as much of a benefit. In addition, be sure to get your massages from a professional who has been trained in therapeutic massage.

In other words, 20 minutes in a booth at the local mall won't cut it. And don't rely on an untrained (but well-meaning) friend, either, because a poorly done massage can actually do more harm than good.

While massage alone will often ease pain, don't stop there. For neck, back and muscle pain, massage combined with heat and stretching exercises can lead to even more relief.

In addition, consider other nondrug therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care and cold laser. And for short-term pain relief, try natural anti-inflammatories such as turmeric, MSM and bromelain.

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