Beneficial Effects of Massage Therapy

Peer-reviewed medical research has shown that the benefits of massage include pain relief, reduced trait anxiety and depression, and temporarily reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and state anxiety.[2] Theories behind what massage might do include blocking nociception (gate control theory), activating the parasympathetic nervous system which may stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin, preventing fibrosis or scar tissue, increasing the flow of lymph, and improving sleep[1] but such effects are yet to be supported by well designed clinical studies.

Single dose effects

Pain relief: Relief from pain due to musculoskeletal injuries and other causes is cited as a major benefit of massage.[1] In one study, cancer patients self-reported symptomatic relief of pain.[3] [4] Massage can also relieve tension headaches. Shiatsu, Acupressure or pressure point massage may be more beneficial than classic Swedish massage in relieving back pain.[8]

State anxiety: Massage has been shown to reduce state anxiety, a transient measure of anxiety in a given situation. [2]

Blood pressure and heart rate: Massage has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate as temporary effects. [2]

Attention: After massage, EEG patterns indicate enhanced performance and alertness on mathematical computations, with the effects perhaps being mediated by decreased stress hormones.

Other: Massage also stimulates the immune system[9] by increasing peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs).

Multiple dose effects

Pain relief: When combined with education and exercises, massage might help sub-acute, chronic, non-specific low back pain. [6] Furthermore, massage has been shown to reduce pain experienced in the days or weeks after treatment. [2]

Trait anxiety: Massage has been shown to reduce trait anxiety; a person's general susceptibility to anxiety. [2]

Depression: Massage has been shown to reduce subclinical depression. [2]

Diseases: Massage, involving stretching, has been shown to help with spastic diplegia resulting from Cerebral palsy in a small pilot study.[7]

1. "Massage Therapy as CAM". The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) (2006-09-01). Retrieved on 2007-09-6.

2. "A Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy Research." (PDF). Psychological Bulletin (2004). Retrieved on 2008-01-12.

3. "Massage therapy for symptom control: outcome study at a major cancer center.". NCBI PubMed (2004-09-12). Retrieved on 2007-09-11.

4. Grealish L, Lomasney A, Whiteman B. (2000). "Foot massage. A nursing intervention to modify the distressing symptoms of pain and nausea in patients hospitalized with cancer (abstract)". PubMed NCBI. Retrieved on 2006-03-07.

5. Furlan A, Brosseau L, Imamura M, Irvin E (2002). "Massage for low back pain.". Cochrane Database Syst Rev: CD0039. doi:10.1002/14611818.CD0039. PMID 12076429

6. Kuriyama, H. (2001). "Immunological and Psychological Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage (abstract)". Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2 (2): 179–184. doi:10.1093/ecam/neh087. PMID 147118

7. Macgregor R, Campbell R, Gladden MH, Tennant N, Young D (2007). "Effects of massage on the mechanical behaviour of muscles in adolescents with spastic diplegia: a pilot study". Developmental medicine and child neurology 49 (3): 187–9. PMID 17311474

8. "Massage for low back pain.". NCBI PubMed (2002). Retrieved on 2007-09-28.

9. Muscolino, J. (2004). "Anatomy Of A Research Article" (PDF). Massage Therapy Foundation. Retrieved on 2007-12-06.

Author's Bio: 

Adam Byrn Tritt is a writer and therapist living in Palm Bay, Florida. Along with his wife, Elise Tritt, OMD, AP, he helps as many people as he can at The Wellness Center.

You may visit The Wellness Center at
You may read more of Adam's writing or find more about his books at or

The Wellness Center specializes in Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, Massage, Homeopathic Treatments, Herbal, and Alternative Medicine.

Serving Melbourne, Palm Bay, Brevard County and the greater Florida Space Coast area.