What is it?
Massage is the manual or mechanical manipulation of soft tissue to improve health. It is a holistic therapy that’s believed to affect all body systems.
Massage might reduce swelling, increase the flow of oxygen into tissues, soften or stretch scar tissue, reduce the build-up of lactic acid in muscles, allow muscles to relax, and stimulate the healing of connective tissue or damaged muscles.
People commonly use massage for back pain and cancer-related pain. It is also used for relaxation, constipation, multiple sclerosis (MS), asthma, athletic performance, stress, and many other purposes, but there is no good scientific evidence to support most of these other uses.
Probably Effective for …
- Back pain. Different forms of massage seem to temporarily relieve back pain. But it’s not clear which forms help most.
- Pain in people with cancer. Massage seems to reduce pain and anxiety in people with cancer. But it’s not clear which forms help most.
Possibly Effective for …
- Burns. Massage on unburned portions of skin seems to help reduce pain and anxiety in people with burns.
- Constipation. Stomach massage seems to improve bowel function in adults and children who are constipated.
- Diseases, such as Alzheimer disease, that interfere with thinking (dementia). Massage seems to help reduce pain and anxiety in people with dementia.
- Fibromyalgia. Massage seems to help reduce pain in people with fibromyalgia.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS). Massage seems to improve some symptoms of MS, including fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
- Yellowing of the skin in infants (neonatal jaundice). Infant massage along with light therapy helps jaundice resolve faster than just using light therapy alone.
- Chronic pain. Massage seems to reduce pain, depression, and anxiety, and improve overall mental health in people with pain. But it only seems to help short-term.
- Pain after surgery. Massage after surgery seems to help reduce pain and anxiety, at least for a few days. But these benefits don’t seem to last long-term.
- Growth and development in premature infants. Massage seems to help increase body weight and improve feeding in premature infants.
- Stress. Massage seems to help reduce stress in people with many different conditions and situations.
There is interest in using massage for a number of other purposes, but there isn’t enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Most types of massage are likely safe when used to improve mood and physical well-being during pregnancy and labor. There isn’t enough reliable information to know if more aggressive forms of massage, such as deep tissue massage, are safe.
Children: Most types of massage are likely safe for children. There isn’t enough reliable information to know if more aggressive forms of massage, such as deep tissue massage, are safe.
Broken or damaged skin: Massage might make damaged or broken skin worse.
Clotting disorders: Massage might increase the risk of blood clots in people who already have a higher risk for blood clots.
Cartilage or bone overgrowth: Massage might increase the risk of damage to a blood vessel in people with an overgrowth of the bone or cartilage.
In the US, massage therapist licensing requirements vary state to state. Some practitioners are licensed as other types of healthcare professionals, including nurses and physical therapists. Massage shouldn’t be used in place of more proven therapies.
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