The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.



What is it?

Massage is a term used to describe the manual manipulation of soft tissue in an effort to improve health. It is a holistic therapy that is believed to affect all body systems.

Massage techniques have been practiced for thousands of years in many cultures. Practitioners mainly use their hands, but may also use their forearms, elbows, or even their feet in some methods. Swedish massage is the most commonly practiced form of massage. Other types of massage, such as sports massage, Esalen massage, and neuromuscular massage, are modified versions of Swedish massage. Another variation, aromatherapy massage, involves the use of essential oils during massage.

People use massage for many conditions, including aggression, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia, anxiety, asthma, athletic performance, itchy skin (eczema), attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, back pain, balance and posture, bronchitis, burns, wounds, cancer, cerebral palsy, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), chronic pain, swelling in the colon (colitis), constipation, heart disease, critical illness, cystic fibrosis, dementia, depression, diabetic nerve pain, diabetes, diarrhea, swelling in the digestive tract, exercise-induced muscle soreness, fatigue, fibromyalgia, swelling in the stomach lining (gastritis), colon dysfunction, headaches, HIV/AIDS, high blood pressure, infant development, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lumbar disc herniation, heavy menstrual periods, jaundice, mental alertness, multiple sclerosis, muscle cramps, muscle fatigue, muscle soreness, muscle strength, myofascial pain, nausea, neck pain, shoulder pain, osteoarthritis, pain, Parkinson’s disease, tearing from vaginal birth, pain from nerve damage, stabbing pain in the bottom of the foot, pressure ulcers, prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome, quality of life, pregnancy-related complications, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), preparation for surgery, levator ani syndrome, respiratory tract infections, restless legs syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, scarring, seizures, mental well-being, sexual dysfunction, sinus infection, skin care, sleep disorders, quitting smoking, spinal cord injury, sprains, surgical recovery, stress, temporomandibular disorder (TMD), tendonitis, weight loss.

Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The Effectiveness ratings for Massage are as follows:

Likely Effective for…

  • Back pain. Most research shows that massage can temporarily relieve back pain. Massage seems to be less effective than spinal manipulation but more effective than acupuncture. Massage has been used along with napratherapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), exercise, and stretching.
  • Cancer-related pain. Research shows that massage can decrease pain and anxiety in people with cancer. Foot reflexology massage appears to be more effective than body massage and aroma massage. Massage might also improve sleep, reduce tiredness, reduce nausea, and improve mood in people with cancer.

Possibly Effective for…

  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Research shows that massage therapy might improve mood and behavior in children with ADHD.
  • Burns. Research shows that massage of unburned skin lowers anxiety, depression, anger, and pain during the removal of damaged tissue from a burn wound. Receiving a massage on unburned portions of skin also seems to reduce pain in patients recovering from second degree burns.
  • Dementia. Most research shows that various types of massage improve behavior in adults with dementia, including agitation, anxiety, and depression.
  • Diarrhea. A large amount of early research in young children with diarrhea shows that massage helps to reduce the amount of diarrhea and make it go away faster when compared with using clay treatment.
  • Fibromyalgia. Research shows that massage therapy slightly improves sleep problems, pain, anxiety, and depression in people with fibromyalgia. Massage also seems to reduce the need for pain medicine and improve quality of life in people with fibromyalgia.
  • Labor pain. Some early research shows that using massage during labor decreases pain, anxiety, depression, and distress. The most benefit seems to be early in labor.
  • Low birth weight. Most research shows that massage therapy can help increase body weight in infants born with a low weight. Moderate pressure massage seems to improve feeding, weight gain, and sleep, and also decrease fussing better than light pressure massage.
  • Jaundice in infants. Research in infants shows that infant massage along with light therapy helps jaundice resolve faster than just using light therapy.
  • Pain. Early research shows that massage reduces pain, depression, and anxiety, and improves overall mental health compared to relaxation and regular therapy in people with pain. However, the benefits appear to be only short-term.
  • Pain after surgery. Massage therapy after surgery reduces pain and anxiety, at least for a few days. Even a single massage might be beneficial. But these benefits do not last long-term. Also, massage does not seem to shorten the amount of time in the hospital after surgery or reduce the amount of pain medicine that is needed.
  • Pregnancy-related complications. Early research shows that massage therapy throughout pregnancy improves anxiety, mood, and sleep quality in pregnant women. Massage also appears to decrease problems during labor and the risk for problems after birth, including post-partum depression. Using a special kind of massage to the area between the vagina and anus near the end of pregnancy might help to prevent tearing during labor.
  • Stress. Early research shows that massage helps reduce stress in acute care nurses, spouses of cancer patients, and elderly people in long-term care facilities. Research also shows that massage reduces stress in people undergoing surgery, but it doesn’t work better than listening to relaxation tapes.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for…

  • Alcoholism. Early research shows that using massage along with standard medical detox lessens withdrawal symptoms in people undergoing alcohol detox.
  • Asthma. Early research shows that receiving massage therapy before bedtime reduces anxiety and improve lung function in children with asthma.
  • Athletic performance. Early research shows that a massage prior to racing improves sprinting performance. But the massage seems to work just as well as regular warm-up routines.
  • Itchy, red skin (eczema). Early research shows that receiving a 20 minute massage daily along with standard care improves symptoms such as skin redness and itching in children with eczema.
  • Autism. Early research shows that receiving massage therapy before bedtime improves sleep and behavior in children with autism. Other early research shows that daily Qigong massage improves social skills, basic living skills, sleep, bowel function, and the senses in children with autism.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. Early research shows that 30 minutes of massage and trigger point therapy improves symptoms and function people with carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Cerebral palsy. Early research shows that a calf muscle massage twice weekly for 5 weeks improves movement in children with a specific type of cerebral palsy.
  • Nausea caused by chemotherapy. Early research shows that massage reduces nausea in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
  • Colic. Early research shows that massage therapy reduces crying similar to a crib vibrator in babies with colic.
  • Constipation. Early research shows that stomach massage improves bowel function in some people who are constipated.
  • Critical illness. Some early research shows that massage improves sleep and relaxation in people in critical care. But conflicting research shows that massage is no more effective than aromatherapy or simple rest for improving stress, anxiety, or mood in these people.
  • Cystic fibrosis. Early research shows that mood and airflow might improve in children with cystic fibrosis when their parents give them a massage.
  • Depression. Early research shows that massage therapy improves depression, anxiety, and restlessness in teens with depression and adjustment disorder who are in the hospital. It also reduces depression in elderly people who are living at home. But massage does not seem to improve depression or satisfaction in elderly people who are bedridden.
  • Diabetes. Early research shows that massaging the spot of injection after injecting insulin might increase insulin levels in the blood. Also, early research shows that anxiety and depression in children with diabetes might improve when their parents give them a nightly massage.
  • Muscle soreness after exercise. Research on the benefits of massage following exercise is mixed. Some research shows that massage reduces soreness after exercise. But other research suggests that massage provides no benefit.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Research shows that massage therapy does not improve symptoms of GERD in infants compared to the control treatment of being held.
  • Headache. Early research shows that massage therapy reduces how often people have headaches. It also might reduce how painful they are and how long they last.
  • HIV/AIDS. Some, but not all, early research shows that massage therapy improves immune function in people with HIV. Massage might also reduce anxiety, depression, and fast breathing.
  • High blood pressure. Early research shows that massage therapy lowers blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
  • Infant development. Most, but not all, research shows that massage does not improve how infants grow. But it might reduce crying, improve sleep, and improve mother-baby interactions.
  • Mental alertness. Early research shows that chair massage improves mental alertness in healthy people compared to relaxation.
  • Multiple sclerosis. Early research shows that massage improves anxiety and depression in people with multiple sclerosis. Additional research shows that receiving massage therapy reduces pain, improves balance, and increases walking speed compared to exercise in people with multiple sclerosis.
  • Muscle strength. Early research shows that 5 minutes of forearm and hand massage after exercise improves grip strength compared to 5 minutes of resting after exercise.
  • Chronic muscle pain (myofascial pain). Early research shows that using massage together with exercise reduces the painful trigger points on the body in people with myofascial pain. It is not clear if massage alone provides these benefits.
  • Neck pain. Some early research shows that massage is as effective as physical therapy for neck pain. Other research shows that receiving massage and learning how to do self-massage decreases neck pain and increases range of motion compared to no treatment. However, other research shows that massage is not as beneficial as acupuncture for reducing neck pain.
  • Osteoarthritis. Early research shows that massages can improve pain, stiffness, range of motion, and walking speed in people with knee osteoarthritis.
  • Parkinson’s disease. Early research shows that massage improves self-confidence, well-being, walking, and daily living in people with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Post-partum depression. Some early research shows that massaging their newborns or watching a massage of their newborns reduces depression and anxiety in mothers with depression after giving birth. Early research also shows that attending classes about infant massage in addition to attending a support group improves mother-infant interactions and symptoms of depression in mothers with postpartum depression. Massage therapy also appears to improve anxiety in adolescent mothers with post-partum depression.
  • Severe PMS symptoms (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). Early research shows that massage lowers anxiety, depression, and pain in women with PMDD. However, it does not appear to provide long-term benefits.
  • Anxiety before surgery. Some early research shows that massage therapy reduces nausea and mental symptoms such as stress and fatigue in people scheduled for a bone marrow transplant. But other early research suggests that massage does not reduce anxiety or blood pressure in people before a heart procedure.
  • Quality of life. Early research shows that hand massage does not improve comfort levels or satisfaction in nursing home residents.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Early research shows that massage therapy lowers pain and anxiety in children with rheumatoid arthritis. Research also shows that a moderate pressure massage is better than a light pressure massage for improving pain, hand grip strength and anxiety in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Scarring. Early research shows that friction massage does not improve the appearance or texture of scars. But it might reduce the itching of scars. Other research shows that burn rehabilitation massage given in addition to standard therapy improves pain, itchiness, scar thickness, and elasticity in people with scars.
  • Shoulder pain. Early research shows that massage therapy improves pain, range of motion, and function in people with shoulder pain.
  • Sleep. Early research shows that massage therapy does not improve sleep in premature infants.
  • Spinal cord injury. Early research shows that massage improves anxiety, depression, muscle strength, and wrist motion in people with a spinal cord injury. Other research shows that stomach massage improves bowel function in these people.
  • A jaw disorder called temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Early research shows that receiving a face massage is less effective for improving range of motion of the jaw compared to wearing a special splint in women with TMD.
  • Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Anorexia.
  • Bronchitis.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
  • Swelling in the colon (colitis).
  • Heart disease.
  • Diabetic nerve pain.
  • Swelling in the digestive tract.
  • Fatigue.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Heavy menstrual periods.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Muscle fatigue.
  • Nausea.
  • Tearing from vaginal birth.
  • Pain from nerve damage.
  • Stabbing pain in the bottom of the foot.
  • Pressure ulcers.
  • Prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome.
  • Respiratory tract infections.
  • Restless legs syndrome.
  • Seizures.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Sinus infection.
  • Skin care.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Sprains.
  • Temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
  • Tendonitis.
  • Weight loss.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of massage for these uses.

While there are many theories about how massage works, research is limited. Some suggest that massage might reduce swelling, increase the flow of oxygen into the tissues, soften or stretch scar tissue, reduce the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, allow the muscles to relax, and stimulate the healing of connective tissue or damaged muscles. Many other effects have also been suggested.

People who support massage have suggested that massage therapy can transform nervous energy into a more steady state. This helps restore balance. Also, the nervous system might benefit from the repetition and tempo of a massage. Rhythms have meditative qualities that refresh both the patient and therapist.

Massage is LIKELY SAFE when used in most conditions associated with stress and pain.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Massage is LIKELY SAFE when used to improve mood and physical well-being during pregnancy and labor.

It is not known if this treatment interacts with any medicines.

Before using this treatment, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.

There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

There are no known interactions with foods.

The appropriate or safe use of massage depends on several factors such as the condition being treated or the person administering the treatment. Be sure to seek and follow relevant directions from your physician or other healthcare professional before using this treatment.

Most massage approaches begin with the patient lying face down on a platform or table with a sheet covering the lower body. Depending on the technique, sessions may last from 15 to 90 minutes. Many patients fall asleep during therapy. The environment is considered very important to massage therapy and often consists of a comfortable, quiet location. Soothing, repetitive, low-volume music or sounds may be played in the background.

Some therapeutic techniques that might be used during a massage therapy include repetitive passive movement of muscles attached to joints, long stroking or gliding, friction, compression, jostling/shaking, kneading, positional release methods, rhythmic traction, springing ,stretching, Swedish gymnastics, tapetoment, and vibration.

Abdominal Massage, Abdominal Meridian Massage, Acupuncture Massage, Aromatherapy Massage, Bindegewebsmassage, Chair Massage, Classical Massage, Connective Tissue Massage, Deep-tissue Massage, Deep Transverse Friction Massage, Digital Massage, Effleurage Massage, Esalen Massage, Foot Massage, Foot Reflexion Massage, Hand Massage, Hot Stone Massage, Ice Massage, Infant Massage, Integrative Massage, Lomilomi Massage, Marma Massage Therapy, Myofascial Release, Neuromuscular Massage, Oil Massage, Perineal Massage, Petrissage, Prostate Massage, Qigong Massage, Roll-stretch Massage, Rhythmical Massage, Shiatsu, Skin Rehabilitation Massage Therapy, Sports Massage, Swedish Massage, Thai Massage, Therapeutic Massage, Tibetan Massage, Trigger point Massage, Tui Na.


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