Can Massage Therapy Help with Chronic Pain Management?

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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How Massage Therapy Can Treat Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia—a musculoskeletal condition that affects 1-3% of the world population—distorts how the brain processes pain signals, causing widespread physical pain and tenderness. Medical researchers have shown massage therapy relieves pain in those who experience fibromyalgia and can help alleviate other symptoms of the condition.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia causes chronic pain throughout the body. People with the condition typically experience an increased sensitivity to pain, feel fatigued, and have difficulty sleeping. They may have trouble focusing, experience stiffness, and endure frequent tension headaches. Some people experience depression, headaches, spastic colon, and abdominal pain or cramping.

More than 7 million Americans have fibromyalgia, which typically affects more women than men. People with severe fibromyalgia may remain bedridden for days at a time from severe fatigue and other symptoms. Due to the lack of effective medical interventions for fibromyalgia, many people turn to complementary treatments such as massage therapy for healing and relief.

Massage therapy often outperforms the other chronic pain treatments people with fibromyalgia may try. For example, a research team from the University of Miami and the Duke University School of Medicine found study participants who received massage treatments fared better than those who had transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and a control group who received a placebo TENS treatment. To treat chronic pain, physicians commonly apply electrical TENS pads to a patient’s skin to stimulate nerve centers. The researchers observed reductions in pain, fatigue, stiffness, and insomnia in the study participants who received massage therapy treatments.

Do I Have Fibromyalgia?

If you feel widespread pain (such as a dull ache) that persists for more than three months, talk with your doctor to see if your symptoms point to fibromyalgia. Be open to other diagnoses, as people can easily confuse fibromyalgia with other types of chronic pain, such as myofascial pain syndrome.

Though medical scientists have not yet found the cause of fibromyalgia, your physician can give you a specific diagnosis for the condition. Fibromyalgia usually affects 18 specific body areas, and people who have the condition typically only experience pain in these particular “tender points,” which are widespread throughout both sides of the body.

People with fibromyalgia also have unique sleep difficulties. Though they may frequently wake up due to their pain, they can sleep for long periods of time due to intense fatigue. They often still feel fatigued upon waking as well as throughout the day.

Massage therapy has the potential to ease many fibromyalgia symptoms, including sleep difficulties. A recent examined 74 people with fibromyalgia. The study participants who received massage therapy instead of a placebo had less anxiety, slept better, experienced greater pain relief, and reported a better quality of life. Participants continued to experience the benefits of massage therapy for as long as a month after treatment and reported better sleep quality as many as six months later.

Why Is Fibromyalgia Hard to Treat?

Doctors have yet to determine an exact cause of fibromyalgia, making it a difficult condition to diagnose and treat. They can test for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other causes of chronic pain, but there is no specific test for fibromyalgia. A blood test can identify blood cell markers in people with fibromyalgia, but the test by itself may not lead to a fibromyalgia diagnosis.

Experts believe some events (such as stressors, traumas, hormone changes, or certain chemicals) can trigger the abnormal amounts and behaviors of certain neurotransmitters associated with fibromyalgia. For example, people with fibromyalgia often experience reduced serotonin levels (and likely clinical depression).

Physicians believe fibromyalgia starts in the brain and then manifests in the body as a low-grade inflammation of fascia, other connective tissues, and muscle fibers. Fascia and related tissues surround muscles and run throughout the body. They determine how much muscles can contract and stretch and provide space for nerves and blood vessels. People with fibromyalgia often experience extreme muscular tension, which can compress muscles, restrict blood flow, and block nervous system pathways.

Can Massage Therapy Treat Fibromyalgia?

Massage therapy holds many benefits for people with fibromyalgia. In a 2015 review of 10 research studies on massage therapy and fibromyalgia, a research team found massage helped people reduce pain, anxiety, and depression related to the condition. People who received massages experienced high levels of pain relief and moderate amounts of emotional healing, which endured well beyond the end of the treatment period.

The researchers examined various types of massage therapy for fibromyalgia and found myofascial release improved stiffness, fatigue, and quality of life. For these symptoms, manual lymphatic drainage techniques and shiatsu massage produced more results than connective tissue massage and Swedish massage.

Another researcher noted the short- and long-term benefits of massage therapy for people with fibromyalgia, recommending one to two gentle, painless massage treatments per week with gradual increases in intensity (depending on the severity of the person’s condition).

Scientists continue to examine the mechanisms of massage therapy and the root causes of fibromyalgia. Research shows massage therapy helps people with chronic pain, as well as those recovering from injuries and surgery. People who receive regular massages sleep better, have less anxiety and depression, and experience improved range of motion. The benefits of massage therapy can lead to pain relief and better quality of life for many.


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15 Reasons to Make Massage Your New Year’s Resolution

Many people set health and wellness goals at the beginning of every year, but lack the motivation to turn those goals into steady, healthy habits. This year, you might try committing to a steady dose of massage therapy treatment sessions. As you go through your regular massage therapy sessions, you will likely notice a wide variety of positive effects, which may include increases in your general level of health and wellness, pain relief and recovery, emotional balance, better sleep, and improved digestion.

Massage therapy can also positively affect your other health and wellness goals. When you get the mind/body benefits of massage on a regular basis, you’re more likely to have the energy you need to tackle even your most daunting resolutions. Imagine yourself feeling great on your way to the gym, enjoying better relationships, and putting a positive spin on your finances.

Why Is Massage the Perfect New Year’s Resolution?

  1. Let go of stress – Massage therapy can reduce your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that suppresses your immune, digestive, reproductive, and cellular growth systems.
  2. Reduce anxiety – Researchers have found massage therapy can soothe anxiety in people of all ages—from healthy adults to children with medical illnesses to hospice patients. Whether your anxiety stems from work, play, trauma, injury, pregnancy, or something else entirely, your massage therapist can help reduce your symptoms.
  3. Manage chronic illness – Many doctors recommend massage therapy as a complementary treatment for chronic illnesses. For example, one study observed the positive effects of massage therapy on a person with Parkinson’s. The effects included a reduction in resting tremors, a common symptom of the condition.
  4. Relieve pain – Research has shown massage therapy provides pain relief for people with many conditions, diseases, and injuries. In one study, a research team found massage therapy reduced pain in acute care patients, helped them regain their emotional balance, and promoted healing.
  5. Reduce the need for medication – Massage therapy can help people avoid or reduce using pain medication. For example, a team of researchers studied patients at a Portland methadone clinic. The patients received an hour of Swedish massage once a week. Study participants who received massage therapy experienced a significant reduction in pain, as compared to those who received only standard treatments.
  6. Soothe nausea – For those who experience frequent bouts of nausea, massage therapy can help soothe an upset stomach. One study found cancer patients who received Swedish massage before and after chemotherapy experienced a substantial reduction in nausea and vomiting.
  7. Sleep better – Research shows people who receive regular massage therapy treatments can enjoy more restful nights and energetic days. For example, researchers from one study observed improved sleep patterns and better quality of life in post-menopausal women with insomnia.
  8. Increase your energy – If you have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), or just need a boost in your day, consider massage therapy. A team of researchers found CFS patients benefited greatly from massage therapy, as compared to those who received other complementary treatments.
  9. Relieve depression – A team at the University of Miami School of Medicine studied a group of pregnant women with depression who received massage therapy in addition to standard treatments. These women experienced substantial mood increases, felt less pain, and gave birth to healthier babies.
  10. Improve digestion – Massage therapy has been shown to encourage healthy digestion. In one study, researchers found premature infants who received massage treatments had better digestion, gained weight faster, and showed better insulin levels than those who only underwent standard treatments.
  11. Soothe headaches – You can use massage therapy to get relief from many kinds of headaches, even chronic ones. Research from one study found massage therapy provided effective non-pharmaceutical relief from migraine headaches. Participants in this study reported fewer headaches and better sleep. The researchers noted improvements in these patients’ anxiety levels, heart rates, and cortisol levels.
  12. Recover easily – Many physicians recommend massage therapy for patients recovering from injury and surgery. For example, a group of Mayo Clinic researchers found massage therapy reduced pain in thoracic surgery patients, increased their mobility, and helped them breathe easier.
  13. Manage sports injuries – Athletes can benefit greatly from massage therapy—especially sports massage—for pain and soft tissue damage. An Ohio State University research team found massage therapy provided relief after the repetitive muscle contractions associated with exercise.
  14. Stimulate your immune system – Massage therapy can boost white blood cells and the “killer cells” that keep the body free of infection, even for those who have an immune-suppressing illness such as cancer.
  15. Lower blood pressure – Massage provides safe, non-pharmaceutical relief from many health conditions. One researcher studied a group of 50 women with moderately high blood pressure. Study participants who received Swedish massage treatments three times a week had significantly lower blood pressure than others.

In addition to these 15 benefits, massage therapy can help with other aspects of health and wellness, such as regulating heartbeat, improving memory, and managing obesity. Due to its healing and pain-reducing effects, doctors often recommend massage to people with heart disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and cancer. Massage therapy also works as a complementary therapy to medical treatments due to its low rate of negative side effects.

However, massage therapy isn’t for everyone. If you’re curious about using massage therapy to treat the symptoms of a medical condition, check with your physician first. Certain patients, especially those with deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) and certain skin ailments, should avoid massage therapy until their conditions improve.

Whatever your motivation for seeking massage therapy—physical health, pain relief, emotional balance, or pure enjoyment—you might consider regular appointments as a way to start your new year off on the right foot.


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Can Massage Therapy Help Treat Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Massage therapy provides many benefits, especially for those who experience pain. Osteoarthritis of the knee can cause pain that may not always be fully addressed with standard treatment options. With regular massage therapy, many people with osteoarthritis are able to manage their pain, increase their physical capabilities, and enjoy active lives.

What Is Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease of the joints that worsens over time. It affects approximately 50 million people in the United States. The personal and financial costs of OA may include:

  • More than $185 billion on OA medical care each year
  • More than $10 billion in losses for businesses each year due to absenteeism
  • Serious side effects from pharmaceuticals that target OA
  • Limited effectiveness from medication options, so patients often have to choose between surgery and debilitating pain

In recent decades, millions of people have explored the potential of massage therapy to relieve the pain of many ailments, such as physical injuries, cancer, diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions, and others. If their needs are not fully met with other treatment options, many OA patients may turn to massage therapy for relief.

Is Massage Safe for Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital reviewed previous research papers on massage and other complementary therapies. They pointed out the safety of massage therapy for OA patients, as well as its healing effects.

They determined massage therapy is safe and effective for OA patients, even when combined with exercise therapy. Research shows patients who receive massage therapy in addition to standard treatments often fare better than those who only receive standard treatments.

For example, researchers at Spain’s University of Alcala studied 18 women who received both massage and exercise therapy or exercise therapy by itself. After six weeks of treatment, the patients who received both therapies showed better results even three months after treatment.

Efficacy of Massage Therapy for Osteoarthritis

A research team at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey studied 68 adults with OA who received Swedish massage for eight weeks (biweekly for the first four weeks and weekly for the second four weeks). Participants experienced a reduction in pain and stiffness, as well as an increase in physical function, including range of motion and walking speed.

Research shows self-massage may also have benefits for OA. A pair of post-doctoral researchers at the Holos University Graduate Seminary observed 40 adults with OA diagnoses. For six weeks, study participants followed a 20-minute narrated self-massage program (both supervised and unsupervised). These people experienced pain and stiffness reductions (though they did not experience the range-of-motion benefits associated with massage by trained therapists).

A research team at the Duke University Medical Center and the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center studied 25 veterans with OA who received eight weekly massage therapy sessions. In addition to finding the same positive effects as other researchers (pain reduction, stiffness alleviation, and increased function), these researchers pointed out the positive inclination of the study participants toward massage. Given the popularity, safety, and affordability of massage therapy (especially home therapy), the researchers highlighted the potential of massage for treating a variety of physical and mental health issues (especially post-deployment).

Can Massage Therapy Help OA Patients Walk More Easily?

A research team from China used six infrared cameras and a motion analysis system to study the gaits of 20 women with OA. Participants received traditional Chinese massage three times a week for two weeks.

In addition to the pain relief, lowered levels of stiffness, and greater mobility noted by other research teams, the researchers observed improvements in specific physical functions. They found massage therapy helped the study participants walk significantly faster and increase the distance between steps. The researchers also measured the total time patients put weight on their joints and saw substantial improvements.

In a follow-up study, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey team partnered with colleagues from the Duke and Yale Schools of Medicine to study a group of 125 OA patients. The researchers gave study participants massage treatments either weekly or biweekly for either 30 or 60 minutes.

The researchers found 60 minutes of massage a week provided more benefits than the other durations and intervals studied. Participants who received 60-minute massages experienced decreased pain, increased range of motion, and faster walk speeds. Even those who received massages only biweekly for 30 minutes experienced less stiffness than those who did not get massages.

Future of Massage Therapy Research for OA Patients

As more people experiment with complementary therapies to address health, wellness, and quality of life, researchers continue to pay attention to these treatments. It is recommended you talk with your doctor about what types of massage are safe to try, explore your options, find a qualified massage therapist, and see what works best for you.


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