Many people get massages to address physical and mental health symptoms. American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) researchers have shown massage is more than just a luxury. Today, most people see massage therapy as a valuable health and wellness practice. Here are the top five reasons why a person might seek a massage:
Reason 1: Stress Reduction, Relaxation
Massage for stress reduction: A team of researchers from Australia’s Orygen Research Centre found people who received daily massage therapy along with standard treatments for anxiety had more positive results than those who only received standard care. Study participants who received massages reported lower levels of anxiety, hostility, and depression than those in the other group. The research team also observed lower heart rates and cortisol levels in the massage group than in the control group.
Massage for relaxation: Massage can help people relax, even during times of high stress. One study examined 30 patients in a hospice who received slow-stroke back massages. These patients showed many common signs of relaxation, such as lower blood pressure, slower heart rate, and higher skin temperature. Massage for hospice clients can be a cost-effective, complementary treatment to increase relaxation and quality of life.
Reason 2: Pain Relief and Management
Massage for pain relief: A researcher at South Carolina’s Crocker Institute found massage had immediate positive effects on people with musculoskeletal pain. After only one hour-long massage session, 116 first-time clients felt reduced physical pain. They also reported a relief in negative emotions surrounding the pain.
Massage for pain management: In a review of many previous research papers, a team of Italian and Austrian researchers highlighted the role of massage therapy in pain relief for advanced-stage cancer patients. The researchers examined five experiments regarding massage and pain relief; in four of these studies, they found massage significantly reduced pain.
Reason 3: Soreness, Stiffness, and Spasms
Massage for soreness: Researchers at Denmark’s National Research Centre for the Working Environment studied a group of 22 healthy men to understand the effects of massage on weightlifting-related soreness. They asked the men to do 10 sets (of 10 repetitions each) of the stiff-legged deadlift, to incite muscle soreness. Study participants who received 10 minutes of roller massage experienced a significant reduction in hamstring soreness.
Massage for flexibility: In 2011, a Texas massage therapist conducted a case study of a woman with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a rheumatic disease that causes inflammation in the spine and joints and can lead to fusion of the vertebrae. This bodyworker observed improvements in the patient’s flexibility, reductions in her pain, and lower levels of fatigue. The case study highlighted massage’s potential as a complementary treatment for AS patients.
Massage for spasms/cramps: A group of experts from the Case Western Reserve University studied a group of 26 kidney dialysis patients who suffered from leg cramps (a common side-effect of dialysis). Some study participants received 20-minute leg massages during their dialysis treatments (three days a week for two weeks); others received regular care. Those who received massages reported a reduction in cramping both during their dialysis treatments and at home.
Reason 4: Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation
Massage for muscle injury recovery: Many people use massage therapy to address muscle injuries and speed up recovery times. Research into the potential of massage therapy to promote muscle healing has yielded some promising results. A team at The Ohio State University studied a group of rabbits that received mechanical massages after over-exercising and damaging their leg muscles. These researchers found massage therapy immediately after muscle damage had the greatest positive effect on muscle torque (strength) and edema (swelling). Massage also reduced the rabbits’ immune cell count in these muscles as well as their rate of inflammation.
Massage for rehabilitation: A team at Iran’s Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences studied a group of people with multiple sclerosis who received 15 massage sessions over a five-week period. They observed significant increases in the study participants’ dynamic balance skills and walking speeds as well as substantial reductions in pain. The team discovered massage had greater benefits than exercise therapy, though they also highlighted the continuing value of exercise. The study participants fared slightly better when using the two therapies (massage and exercise) simultaneously.
Reason 5: Pampering and Indulgence
Massage for pleasure: A research team from the University of Hertfordshire and University College London found slow, gentle touch can strengthen someone’s sense of self. In a study of 52 healthy adults, they found that soft, slow touch not only created pleasurable sensations, it also produced high levels of embodiment (body ownership). Being touched strengthened study participants’ interoception signals (their inner senses of touch). These signals strengthen the body/mind relationship known as the “sense of self.”
Those who receive massage therapy for pampering, indulgence, or just to feel good still gain essential health benefits. People who enjoy the pleasurable sensations of massage therapy, without intentionally addressing any physical or mental ailments, can benefit by taking time out to relax and enjoy physical touch. Whatever your reason for seeking a massage, your body is likely to enjoy the benefits.
- American Massage Therapy Association. (2016). Industry fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/infocenter/economic_industry-fact-sheet.html#Who
- Chunco, R. (2011). The effects of massage on pain, stiffness, and fatigue levels associated with ankylosing spondylitis: A case study. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 4(1), 12–17.
- Crucianelli, L., Metcalf, N., Fotopoulou, K., & Jenkinson, P. (2013). Bodily pleasure matters: Velocity of touch modulates body ownership during the rubber hand illusion. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 703. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00703
- Falkensteiner, M., Mantovan, F., Müller, I, & Them, C. (). The use of massage therapy for reducing pain, anxiety, and depression in oncological palliative care patients: A narrative review of the literature. International Scholarly Research Notices: Nursing. doi:10.5402/2011/929868
- Gamer, B., Phillips, L., Schmidt, H., Markulev, C., O’Connor, J., Wood, S., . . . McGorry P. (2008). Pilot study evaluating the effect of massage therapy on stress, anxiety and aggression in a young adult psychiatric inpatient unit. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 42(5), 414-422. doi:10.1080/00048670801961131
- Haas, C., Butterfield, T., Abshire, S., Zhao, Y., Zhang, X., Jarjoura, D., & Best, T., (2013). Massage timing affects postexercise muscle recovery and inflammation in a rabbit model. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(6), 1105–1112. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e31827fdf18
- Jay, K., Sundstrup, E., Søndergaard, S., Behm, D., Brandt, M., Særvoll, C., . . . Andersen, L. Specific and crossover effects of massage for muscle soreness: Randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 9(1), 82-91.
- Lab of Action & Body, Royal Holloway, University of London. (2016). Interoception. Retrieved from http://www.pc.rhul.ac.uk/sites/lab/index.php/research-themes-projects/interoception/
- Mastnardo, D., Lewis, J., Hall, K., Sullivan, C., Cain, K., Theurer, J., . . . Sehgal, A. (2016). Intradialytic massage for leg cramps among hemodialysis patients: a pilot randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 9(2), 3-8.
- Night leg cramps: Definition. (2016, February 2). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/night-leg-cramps/basics/definition/sym-20050813
- Meek, S. (1993). Effects of slow stroke back massage on relaxation in hospice clients. Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 25(1), 17-21.
- Menard, M. (2015). Immediate effect of therapeutic massage on pain sensation and unpleasantness: A consecutive case series. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 4(5), 56–60. doi:10.7453/gahmj.2015.059
- Negahban, H., Rezaie, S., & Goharpey, S. (2013). Massage therapy and exercise therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled pilot study. Clinical Rehabilitation, 27(12), 1126-1136. doi:10.1177/0269215513491586