Massage Benefits

August 16, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

If you had millions of dollars at your disposal, what luxuries would be on the top of your list? A mansion surrounded by a large plot of land? A fleet of sports cars? Perhaps a wardrobe filled with the most “fashion forward” accessories, clothes and shoes? None of those options have ever been all that appealing to me. But I’ll admit to one extravagance that would be most welcome – having a weekly massage. When Mrs. Healthy Fellow and I go on vacation we often fit in at least one afternoon at full service spa. There we indulge in some type of bodywork, be it an aromatherapy or hot stone massage, a facial or a session of reflexology. Sure it’s pricey but you leave feeling great and with the knowledge that you’ve invested in something health promoting for the body and mind. That’s why my Healthy Monday tip of the week is to give others and yourself the gift of massage.

The August edition of the Journal of Holistic Nursing provides a historical perspective of massage therapy in nursing care. In the 1800′s, massage instruction and training was a standard part of nursing curricula. But with the advent and adoption of more specialized physiotherapy and pharmacological options, massage rapidly lost ground in the field of the healing arts. The closing line of the review article states, “Historical research in the use of massage in nursing may help refocus attention on the healing of the mind/body and reinforce the value of compassionate touch and balance in nursing practice today”. Here are 10 reasons why I think modern medicine would benefit if this came to pass: (1)

  • A newly published study in the Journal of Anesthesia found that a simple back massage is capable of reducing heart rate and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory scores in healthy women. In addition, the massage increased salivary levels of chromogranin A – a protein secreted by the parathyroid gland with antibacterial and antifungal activity. (2)
  • Massaging the feet and hands of pregnant women can reduce the intensity of post-cesarean pain. A group of Turkish researchers recently concluded that, “Foot and hand massage proved useful as an effective nursing intervention in controlling postoperative pain”. The study appears in the August 2010 issue of the journal Applied Nursing Research. (3)
  • A randomized controlled trial involving 60 patients with constipation reports that abdominal massage not only helps manage regularity, but can also reduce health care costs. After 8 weeks of abdominal massage, health related quality of life was statistically improved in the study participants. It’s gratifying to know that benefits were noted for patients receiving either “professional massage” or “self-massage”. (4)
  • Two 30 minute sessions of classical massage per week can improve anxiety, depression and immune balance (Th1/Th2 ratio) in breast cancer patients. So says a new publication in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer. The investigation in question enrolled 34 women with breast cancer. Over the course of 5 weeks half received massage therapy while the remainder was monitored as a comparison group. (5)
  • Even short massage sessions can bring about profound physiological changes. A recent experiment recruited 22 healthy, young men and women. Just 5 minutes of “touch massage” was capable of reducing: a) heart rate and heart rate variability – indicating a reduced stress response; b) cortisol (a stress hormone) and insulin levels; c) extracellular blood sugar. (6)
  • A trial appearing in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine points to the utility of massage in improving circulation throughout the body. What’s most compelling about this research is the finding that massage improved “peripheral blood flow in the treated areas as well as in adjacent non-massaged areas”. Of note, the increase in body temperature and circulation continued for at least 60 minutes post-massage. (7)
  • A meta-analysis from the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry evaluated 17 studies which focused on the effects of massage in depressed patients. In all, data from 786 study volunteers were analyzed. The authors commented that, “All trials showed positive effect of massage therapy in depressed people”. They also recommended additional research based on this promising, albeit, preliminary evidence. (8)

Massage Practitioners May Also Perceive Mental Health Benefits

Source: eCAM 2009 6(4):473-482 (link)

  • Traditional Thai massage may be a useful therapy for those at risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis. This assertion is based on a recent trial conducted on 30 healthy females with ages ranging from 20 to 40 years. Various measures of bone formation and resorption improved post-massage. P1NP levels increased by 4.8% and CTx-I decreased. This suggests an improvement in bone formation and a reduction of bone break down. (9)
  • New data out of Canada explains that as little as 10 to 30 seconds of massage can improve range of motion in “recreationally active” adults. A 7.2% increase in hip flexion range of motion was documented in a current study presented in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. This revelation lead to the following conclusion, “Musculotendinous massage may be used as an alternative or a complement to static stretching for increasing ROM (range of motion)”. (10)
  • A summary article in the July 2010 issue of Rheumatology International investigated the potential of massage therapy for improving quality of life and symptom severity in fibromyalgia patients. Two “single-arm studies and six randomized controlled trials” formed the basis for the review. The primary points made in the paper are that: a) “All reviewed studies showed short-term benefits of massage, and only one single-arm study demonstrated long-term benefits”; b) massage treatment in those with fibromyalgia should be “performed at least 1-2 times a week” and the intensity of massage should be “increased gradually from session to session”. (11)

As much as I endorse and enjoy massage, I fully understand that it’s not appropriate in every circumstance. If you have or suspect that you have a serious health condition, please consult with a trusted health care provider prior to engaging in a course of massage therapy. Also, please keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of variations of massage. Consulting with a specialist can help you find the right application for your individual needs. I’d also urge you not to let financial obstacles rule out massage from your life. Basic massage techniques can be applied by lay people, provided they have a good guide to help along the way. There are often low cost classes available at community centers and hospitals. In addition, there are countless books by experts in the field waiting for attention at your local library. Learning how to use your hands as healing tools is a great gift you can give yourself and others.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Heart Health, Mental Health

9 Comments & Updates to “Massage Benefits”

  1. Joanna Says:

    This makes sense to me! Also, suggesting reading up on the subject to be able to massage your friends and family a little is a great tip. Massage can be out of budget for so many people (like me!), realizing you good pair of hands to offer is good alternative :)

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Joanna. :)

    I think there’s great value in human touch. Money sometimes changes the way we access massage but it shouldn’t exclude it from any of our lives. An end of the day mini-massage is a mainstay in our household. It works for us!

    Be well!


  3. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for the information, I am going to tweet the article link!

  4. JP Says:

    Update: Traditional Thai massage benefits the body & mind of those living with chronic pain …

    The Efficacy of Traditional Thai Massage for the Treatment of Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review

    Rational and background

    Traditional Thai massage (TTM) is an alternative medicine treatment used for pain relief. The purpose of this paper is to provide a systematic review of the research about the effects of TTM on pain intensity and other important outcomes in individuals with chronic pain.


    We performed a systematic review of the controlled trials of the effects of TTM, using the keywords “Traditional Thai massage” or “Thai massage” with the keyword “Chronic pain.”


    Six research articles met the inclusion criteria. All of the studies found a pre-to post-treatment pain reductions, varying from 25% to 80% and was also associated with improvements in disability, perceived muscle tension, flexibility and anxiety.


    The TTM benefits of pain reduction appear to maintain for up to 15 weeks. Additional research is needed to identify the moderators, mediators and to determine the long-term benefits of TTM relative to control conditions.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Update: Lavender oil massage reduces menstrual pain …

    Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2015 Jan-Feb;20(1):156-60.

    The effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender oil on severity of primary dysmenorrhea in Arsanjan students.

    BACKGROUND: Presently, using complementary therapy such as lavender oil has specific application in medicine. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of aromatherapy massage on the severity of primary dysmenorrhea in nursing and midwifery students of Islamic Azad University of Arsanjan, Iran.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: This study was performed using clinical trial method on 80 eligible students whose level of pain was measured by visual analogue scale (VAS) before the intervention. Each participant, in the first days of menstruation, randomly received two types of massage with lavender and placebo oil in two consecutive cycles of menstruation. Their level of pain was measured before and 30 min after the intervention. In this study, each group was considered as their self-control group in the next cycle. The data were analyzed by SPSS software.

    RESULTS: A significant decrease in VAS score after lavender massage was detected in comparison with placebo massage. There was a statistically significant difference between VAS scores after and before placebo massage. In addition, statistically the effect of lavender massage on the severity of primary dysmenorrhea was higher than that of placebo massage (P < 0.001).

    CONCLUSIONS: Findings of this study showed that lavender oil massage decreases primary dysmenorrhea and it can be used as an effective herbal drug.

    Be well!


  6. JP Says:

    Udpate 04/17/15:

    Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2015 Mar-Apr;20(2):200-4.

    Comparing the effects of reflexology and relaxation on fatigue in women with multiple sclerosis.

    BACKGROUND: Fatigue is the most common and highly disabling symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS) that has negative effects on employment, the process of socialization, compliance with the disease, and other factors effective on activities of daily living. The usage of complementary and alternative medicine methods in MS patients is higher than in the general population. However, there is no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. Therefore, this study aimed to compare the effects of reflexology and relaxation on fatigue in women with MS.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: This study is a single-blinded randomized clinical trial that was done on 75 patients with MS who referred to the MS Clinic of Ayatollah Kashani Hospital (Isfahan, Iran). After simple non-random sampling, participants were randomly assigned by minimization method to three groups: Reflexology, relaxation, and control groups (25 patients in each group). In the experimental groups, the interventions foot reflexology and relaxation (Jacobson and Benson) were performed for 4 weeks, twice a week for 40 min in each session, and the control group received care and routine medical treatment as directed by a physician. Data were collected through a questionnaire and the fatigue severity scale before, immediately after, and 2 months after interventions from all three groups. Data analysis was performed by SPSS version 18 using descriptive and inferential statistical methods.

    RESULTS: Findings obtained from analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed that there was no significant difference in the mean fatigue severity scores in the pre-interventions between the three groups (P > 0.05), but there was significant difference immediately after and 2 months after interventions between the three groups (P < 0.05). Findings obtained from repeated measures (ANOVA) showed that there was significant difference in the mean fatigue severity scores during different times between the three groups (P < 0.05), while this difference was not significant in the control group (P > 0.05). Furthermore, least significant difference post-hoc test revealed that the mean scores of fatigue severity immediately after intervention was lower in the reflexology group than in the other two groups and were lower in the relaxation group than in the control group; 2 months after interventions, the mean scores of fatigue severity were lower in the reflexology group than in the other two groups, but there was no significant difference between the two groups of relaxation and control (P > 0.05).

    CONCLUSIONS: It seems that both interventions were effective in reducing fatigue, but the effects of reflexology on reducing fatigue were more than those of relaxation. Hence, as these two methods are effective and affordable techniques, they can be recommended.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Update 05/18/15:

    Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice – May 11, 2015

    A Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) investigating the effectiveness of reflexology for managing pregnancy low back and pelvic pain

    Many pregnant women with LBPP use pain medications to manage this pain, much of which is self-prescribed and potentially harmful. Therefore, there is a need to find effective nonpharmacological treatments for the condition. Reflexology has previously been shown to help nonspecific low back pain. Therefore; a pilot RCT was conducted investigating reflexology in the management of pregnancy-LBPP. 90 primiparous women were randomised to either usual care, a reflexology or footbath intervention. Primary outcome measures were; the Pain Visual Analogue Scale (VAS). 64 women completed the RCT; retention rates for the reflexology group were 80%, usual care group 83.33% and footbath group 50%. The reflexology group demonstrated a Clinically Important Change (CIC) in pain frequency (1.64cm). Results indicate it is feasible to conduct an RCT in this area, although a footbath is an unsuitable sham treatment. Reflexology may help manage pregnancy-LBPP; however a fully powered trial is needed to confirm this.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Updated 08/11/15:

    Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2015 Jul-Aug;20(4):508-15.

    The effect of massage therapy on occupational stress of Intensive Care Unit nurses.

    BACKGROUND: One of the main causes of stress in the lives of people is their jobs. Occupational stress is causing a wide range of significant issues in health and community services. Nursing is the most stressful profession in the health services. Massage therapy is one way of coping with stress. This study was conducted to determine the effect of massage therapy on stress in nurses.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: This study was a clinical trial on 66 male and female nurses working in intensive care units (dialysis, ICU, and CCU) of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran, in 2013. Participants were selected according to the aims and inclusion criteria of the study. Then, they were randomly divided into experimental and control groups. The Occupational Stress Inventory (OSI) (Osipow and Spokane, 1987) was completed by participants of the two groups before, immediately after, and 2 weeks after the intervention. General Swedish massage was performed on participants of the experimental group for 25 min in each session, twice a week for 4 weeks. Data were analyzed by descriptive and inferential statistics [Chi-square, t-test, and repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA)] using SPSS software.

    RESULTS: Results showed that the difference in overall mean occupation stress scores between experimental and control groups 2 weeks after the intervention was significant (P < 0.001).

    CONCLUSIONS: According to the results, it is recommended that massage, as a valuable noninvasive method, be used for nurses in intensive care units to reduce their stress, promote mental health, and prevent the decrease in quality of nursing work life.

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Updated 08/23/15:

    J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Jun;9(6):UC05-8.

    The Effect of Whole Body Massage on the Process and Physiological Outcome of Trauma ICU Patients: A Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial.

    BACKGROUND AND AIM: Hospitalization of traumatic patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and their critical condition can cause haemodynamic instabilities and deterioration in the level of consciousness. The study aimed to investigate the effect of whole body massage on the vital signs, Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) scores and arterial blood gases (ABG) in trauma ICU patients.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: In a randomized, double-blind trial, 108 trauma ICU patients received whole body massage {experimental group (n=54)}, or routine care {control group (n=54)}. The patients vital signs; systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), respiratory rate (RR), pulse rate (PR), Temperature (T), GCS score and ABG parameters were measured by a nurse at the same time in both groups before the intervention and 1 hour and 3 hours after the intervention with a checklist. The patient in experimental group received full body massage in 45 minute by a family member.

    RESULTS: According to the findings, significant differences were observed between experimental and control groups in SBP 1 hour and 3 hours after intervention (p< 0.001), DBP, RR and PR 1 hour after intervention (p<0.001) and GCS 1 hour and 3 hours after intervention (p<0.05). Of ABG parameters, significant differences were observed between experimental and control groups in O2 saturation (p<0.001), PH (p<0.001) and pO2 (p<0.05). No significant differences between experimental and control groups in Temperature, pCO2 and HCO3 (p>0.05).

    CONCLUSION: With respect to this study, massage therapy is a safe and effective treatment in intensive care units to reduce patient’s physical and psychological problems. Therefore the use of massage therapy is recommended to clinical practice as a routine method.

    Be well!


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