Can Massage Therapy Help with Chronic Pain Management?

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Many people seek massage therapy for medical reasons. According to the American Massage Therapy Association’s 2014 and 2015 consumer surveys, 52% of people got massages for one of the following reasons:

  • To relieve and manage pain
  • To address spasms, soreness, and stiffness
  • To recover and rehabilitate from injuries
  • To stay fit and increase health and wellness
  • To ease discomfort during pregnancy

In 2015, 16% of American adults discussed massage therapy with their doctors and other health care providers, and about 69% of the time, their physicians and health care workers strongly recommended massage therapy and gave them a referral. Physicians were the most likely health care providers to recommend massage, but chiropractors, physical therapists, and mental health professionals also encouraged their patients to seek a massage therapist.

How Does Massage Provide Pain Relief After Injuries?

As the body of relevant research grows, more doctors recommend massage therapy to people in pain. Researchers from one study observed a group of young men with exercise-related injuries to their skeletal muscles. They knew massage therapy was linked to pain relief and wanted to uncover the mechanisms of this effect.

The researchers found massage therapy reduced stress on a cellular level, decreased inflammation, and increased mitochondrial biogenesis in these study participants. Mitochondria exist within cells, provide energy and respiration, and contribute to the healing of cellular injuries.

According to the study, massage reduced the pain of injuries in much the same way as anti-inflammatory drugs do. Massage therapy also has fewer potential side effects than prescription painkillers.

Can Massage Therapy Relieve Your Chronic Pain?

Lower back pain – According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers have found promising evidence that massage therapy can benefit people with lower back pain. Researchers at Canada’s Institute for Work and Health found acupressure was more effective for lower back pain than Swedish massage. Thai massage produced similar results to Swedish massage. The researchers recommended massage therapy in conjunction with exercises and relevant education.

Headaches – In a study of people who experience chronic tension headaches, researchers found massage therapy reduced the frequency and duration of these headaches. Even short 30-minute sessions could alleviate certain headaches, and the participants experienced significant reductions in headache frequency after only the first week of this eight-week study.

Arthritis knee pain – In a study of people who had knee pain from arthritis, researchers found massage therapy provided pain relief benefits for at least eight weeks after treatment. In a follow-up study, they determined weekly 60-minute massage sessions were the most effective, given their convenience, cost, and consistency.

Neck pain – In a study of 228 people living with chronic neck pain, a team of doctors found 60-minute massage sessions were more effective than 30-minute ones. They urged physicians to relate this information to their patients when recommending massage for neck pain.

Fibromyalgia – A researcher in Sweden found people with fibromyalgia who received massage therapy felt less pain up to six months after treatment. In this study of 48 patients, the researcher found 15 massage therapy treatments over a 10-week period relieved 37% of pain, relieved feelings of depression, and decreased study participants’ need for painkillers.

Cancer pain – Cancer patients have long turned to massage therapy for relief from pain related to cancer and cancer treatments. One research group found massage therapy is effective for short-term treatment of anxiety and depression in cancer patients. In their review of many previous studies, they highlighted one in which cancer patients experienced a 50% reduction in symptoms after receiving massage therapy.


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  1. Mark D says

    Body massage is always help to get relief from chronic pain. All nerve system of body get proper relax and blood circulation is good.

  2. John says

    I thought it was really interesting to learn that there is actually scientific evidence that supports the idea of massages helping relieve chronic lower back pain. My wife has a bad back and it has gotten to the point that she can’t do normal things that she used to such as garden or play with the grandkids. Maybe having her see a massage therapist that works with acupressure could be helpful in restoring the mobility in her back and provide her with some pain relief.

  3. Kylie D. says

    I thought it was really interesting how you said that people will neck pain who had a massage for 60 mins had better results than those who had one for 30 mins. Massages seem to be a pretty good way to release muscle tension and help relaxation become more of a possibility. You could probably talk to a pain management doctor to see what else you could do in order to find ways to reduce the pain you feel in different parts of your body.

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