The Benefits of Massage


Had a good massage lately?

One of the most obvious benefits of massage is how it makes you feel.  Ahhh, what a wonderful feeling after a relaxing massage.  Whether you are an athlete looking to reduce muscle pain and stiffness, a driver wanting to reduce pain of injuries following an accident, or an individual who wants to reduce everyday stress, a licensed massage therapist can be invaluable.

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is recognized as one of the oldest methods of healing, with references in medical texts nearly 4,000 years old.  Massage therapy involves the manipulation of both muscular and soft tissues of the body through the use of compression, friction, movable pressure, stretching, and kneading.  This is usually performed with the hands, althought he use of forearms, feet, and elbows may be used.  Each technique used can affect circulation, lymph movement, muscle tone, and the nervous system as well as other systems within the body.  People use massage for a variety of health-related purposes, including to relieve pain, rehabilitate sports injuries, reduce stress, increase relaxation, address anxiety and depression, and aid general wellness.

massage hands

Is There a Scientific Basis for the Benefits of Massage Therapy?

Years of personally reported benefits cannot be denied, yet there are some among us who love facts and data.  Recent research  shows emerging evidence that massage therapy is effective in treating a number of specific conditions, including ADHD, Fibromyalgia, Pain Management, and Stress Reduction. One such study was published in September 2010 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine by Dr. Mark Hyman Rapaport.  This preliminary study compared one 45 min session of Swedish Massage Therapy with a control treatment of light-touch therapy.  The response of both stress hormones and immune function were measured to help determine why massage works so well physiologically.   Two stress hormones, arginine-vasopressin (AVP) and cortisol (CORT) decreased significantly.  Massage also increased the number of circulating disease-fighting lymphocytes while at the same time decreased inflammatory cytokines.  This study shows actual biological effects that would have great implications in the care of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. (1) Other recent studies have been investigating:

  • The effects of massage on chronic neck pain and low-back pain
  • Massage to treat anxiety disorder, alleviate depression in patients with advanced AIDS, and promote recovery in women who were victims of sexual abuse as children
  • Massage to relieve fatigue in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, reduce treatment-related swelling of the arms in breast cancer patients, and alleviate pain and distress in cancer patients at the end of life
  • Whether massage improves weight gain and immune system function in preterm infants
  • Whether massage given at home by a trained family member helps reduce pain from sickle cell anemia.

Safety of Massage

via NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Massage therapy appears to have few serious risks—if it is performed by a properly trained therapist and if appropriate cautions are followed. The number of serious injuries reported is very small. Side effects of massage therapy may include temporary pain or discomfort, bruising, swelling, and a sensitivity or allergy to massage oils. Cautions about massage therapy include the following:

  • Vigorous massage should be avoided by people with bleeding disorders or low blood platelet counts, and by people taking blood-thinning medications such as warfarin.
  • Massage should not be done in any area of the body with blood clots, fractures, open or healing wounds, skin infections, or weakened bones (such as from osteoporosis or cancer), or where there has been a recent surgery.
  • Although massage therapy appears to be generally safe for cancer patients, they should consult their oncologist before having a massage that involves deep or intense pressure. Any direct pressure over a tumor usually is discouraged. Cancer patients should discuss any concerns about massage therapy with their oncologist.
  • Pregnant women should consult their health care provider before using massage therapy.

Massage Therapy: Is it Right for You?

Massage has the power to release tension, relax, reduce pain, and even benefit our immune system.(1)  Through this powerful healing touch we are able to enhance both our physical and our emotional wellness.  When deciding whether you want to get a massage, consider your personal health needs.  Be sure to talk with your physician about the safety of massage therapy if you have any serious medical conditions. And be sure to use the services of a professional licensed massage therapist.  They will have been trained in the proper modalities that will give you the best massage at optimum results. You will then be able to relax and enjoy the many health benefits of massage. I want to know of your experiences with massage therapy.  There are many different styles of massage that have different health benefits.  If you have had a particularly good health result through massage, please feel free to recommend the technique or particular therapist in the comments below. Live Well! Robin


I want to thank Ivy Jo Staton at FUZION Massage for her time and valuable information on massage therapy and its important role  in complementary medicine.

1.Rapaport MH, Schettler P, Bresee C. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Sep 1. A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center , Los Angeles, CA.


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