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Science Facts


What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Massage

A lot of the scientific research on massage therapy is preliminary or conflicting, but much of the evidence points toward beneficial effects on pain and other symptoms associated with a number of different conditions. Much of the evidence suggests that these effects are short term and that people need to keep getting massages for the benefits to continue.

Researchers have studied the effects of massage for many conditions. Some that they have studied more extensively are the following


A 2008 systematic review and 2011 NCCIH-funded clinical trial concluded that massage may be useful for chronic low-back pain.

Massage may help with chronic neck pain, a 2009 NCCIH-funded clinical trial reported.

Massage may help with pain due to osteoarthritis of the knee, according to a 2012 NCCIH-funded study.

Studies suggest that for women in labor, massage provided some pain relief and increased their satisfaction with other forms of pain relief, but the evidence is not strong, a 2012 review concluded.


Numerous systematic reviews and clinical studies have suggested that at least for the short term, massage therapy for cancer patients may reduce pain, promote relaxation, and boost mood. However, the National Cancer Institute urges massage therapists to take specific precautions with cancer patients and avoid massaging:

Open wounds, bruises, or areas with skin breakdown

Directly over the tumor site

Areas with a blood clot in a vein

Sensitive areas following radiation therapy.


Mental health

A 2010 meta-analysis of 17 clinical trials concluded that massage therapy may help to reduce depression.

Brief, twice-weekly yoga and massage sessions for 12 weeks were associated with a decrease in depression, anxiety, and back and leg pain in pregnant women with depression, a 2012 NCCIH-funded randomized controlled trial showed. Also, the women’s babies weighed more than babies born to women who didn’t receive the therapy.

However, a 2013 research review concluded that there is not enough evidence to determine if massage helps pregnant mothers with depression.

A 2010 review concluded that massage may help older people relax.

For generalized anxiety disorder, massage therapy was no better at reducing symptoms than providing a relaxing environment and deep breathing lessons, according to a small, 2010 NCCIH-supported clinical trial.


NCCIH Clearinghouse: The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

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People with fibromyalgia have widespread pain and “tender points” on their bodies that hurt when slight pressure is put on them. People with fibromyalgia may also have other problems, such as:

Trouble sleeping

Morning stiffness


Painful menstrual periods

Tingling or numbness in hands or feet

Problems with thinking and memory (sometimes called “fibro fog”).

Fibromyalgia may also be associated with depression and anxiety.

The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown, but current research is looking at how different parts of the nervous system may contribute to fibromyalgia pain.

It is estimated that fibromyalgia affects 5 million American adults. Most people with fibromyalgia—between 80 and 90 percent—are women. However, men and children also can have the disorder.

A person with fibromyalgia may have other, coexisting chronic pain conditions. Such conditions may include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome), irritable bowel syndrome, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia (chronic vulvar pain). It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.

Often unable to find help elsewhere, fibromyalgia sufferers have been known to seek out alternative methods to find lasting pain relief. Understanding the disorder more comprehensively and discovering how medical massage can be applied to a particular client may benefit all who suffer from it.

The patient is usually depressed, suffers from mood swings, easily bursts into tears, has significant sleep disturbances, and is mentally and physically fatigued. Additionally, the patient may have many related physical complaints: migraines, bruxism (teeth grinding), TMJ problems, irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic pain, tachycardia (increased cardiac rate), Raynauld's phenomenon and chronic rhinitis.

The pain-causing physical expressions of chronic inflammation consist of mild swelling of the soft tissue, tension in fascia, pathological hypertonus of muscles, significant decrease in blood supply and calcium depositing in the soft tissue.

We recommend beginning the first 10 massage therapy treatments on a two procedures per week basis. Main focus on pertinent areas will be addressed prior to the full-body massage treatment be considered after the first three to four treatments.


History's Lessons
In 1968, in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union, workers of a large industrial complex started developing fibromyalgia symptoms in epidemic proportions. The Soviet government assigned a group of scientists to find the causes of this epidemic. It was clear to everyone that psychosomatic disorders should be ruled out.

The group of scientists eventually found that an adjacent lake, heavily contaminated with toxic waste, was causing muscular tension. Over time, this led to the development of fibromyalgia. What these scientists learned was that individuals suffering from myofascial pain syndrome have a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia. But those who develop fibromyalgia are almost guaranteed to develop chronic fatigue syndrome.

During a study and clinical treatments, these scientists concluded that the development of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome can be prevented by medical massage treatments (for more on medical massage, see Boris Prilutsky's medical massage article in Massage Bodywork, August/September 2003). As we mentioned here, the persistence of low-grade pain bombards the central nervous system and causes a decrease in serotonin level. Restoration of ATP, neuromuscular function and stabilization of metabolism will decrease the pain sensation. The elimination of low-grade pain will allow the central nervous system to restore the level of serotonin and chronic fatigue syndrome development will be prevented.

Studies from the "Journal of Clinical Rheumatology", "Touch Research Institute", "Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners" found exciting results from fibromyalgia and massage therapy studies.

They found that massage therapy for fibromyalgia results in:

• Increased blood circulation

• Increased muscle flexibility and range of motion

• Reduced pain, swelling and stiffness

• Decreased stress, stress hormone levels and anxiety

• Less fatigue and trouble sleeping, with longer sleep times

• Less use of analgesics (pain medicine)

• Less depression





What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal aches, pain and stiffness, soft tissue tenderness, general fatigue, and sleep disturbances.

The pain can be spread over any part of your body, but the most common sites tend to be your neck, back, shoulders, pelvic girdle, and hands. Patients tend to experience a wide variety of symptoms with varying intensities that wax and wane over time.1

Fibromyalgia seems to occur 8 to 10 times more prevalently in women than men, and is seen in children and all ethnic groups. Because of its debilitating nature, it has a serious impact on patients’ families, friends, and employers, as well as on society as a whole.

Classic Symptoms

Pain – The key marker of fibromyalgia is pain, which is profound, widespread

and chronic. It occupies most parts of your body, and it varies in intensity.

It has been described as deep muscular aching,

stabbing, shooting, throbbing and twitching.

Neurological complaints add to the discomfort

such as numbness, tingling, and burning.

The severity of the pain and stiffness is often

worse in the morning. Aggravating factors are

cold/humid weather, non-restorative sleep,

fatigue, excessive physical activity, physical

inactivity, anxiety and stress.

Fatigue – The fatigue of fibromyalgia is different from the fatigue that many

people complain of in today’s busy world. It is more than being tired—it is an allencompassing exhaustion that interferes with even the simplest daily activities, often leaving the patient with a limited ability to function both mentally and physically for an extended period of time.

Sleep Disruption – Many patients have an associated sleep problem that prevents them from getting deep, restful, restorative sleep. Medical researchers have documented specific and distinctive abnormalities in the Stage 4 deep sleep of fibromyalgia patients. During sleep, they are constantly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity, limiting the amount of time they spend in deep sleep.

Other Symptoms – Other symptoms can include irritable bowel and bladder, headaches and migraines, restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movements, impaired memory and concentration, skin sensitivities and rashes, dry eyes and mouth, anxiety, depression, ringing in your ears, dizziness, Raynaud’s Syndrome, and impaired coordination. In order for fibromyalgia to meet the diagnostic criteria of the American College of Rheumatology, it must meet two criteria:

1. Widespread pain in all four quadrants of your body for a minimum of three months

2. Tenderness or pain in at least 11 of the 18 specific tender points when pressure is applied (see diagram below)


What is medical massage therapy?

Medical massage therapy is the application of  safe therapeutic massage techniques to specific medical conditions. Medical massage therapists are knowledgeable about the precautions and considerations of working with individuals whose health is compromised and are familiar with the hospital setting, use of medical terminology and jargon, and often are involved in  medical treatment plans. Medical massage therapy deals with the treatment of medical conditions utilizing therapeutic and treatment-based massage. Medical massage therapists are able to identify and treat the stresses endured by the body in cases of multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, stroke, diabetes, AIDS, cancer, burns, and post-surgical complications, chronic pain and fatigue, fibromyalgia and other chronic medical conditions.

Massage therapy has been shown to increase blood and lymph flow; decrease post-exercise soreness; reduce swelling and joint and muscle stiffness; increase range of motion of the joints; release the body's own pain relievers, the substances called endorphins; promote relaxation; relieve some fatigue; and promote a feeling of well-being.

Therapeutic massage consists of hands-on manipulation of the body's soft tissue, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments using different techniques and levels of pressure. For cancer patients, massage can reduce symptoms of disease and side effects of treatment like anxiety and pain. For caregivers, massage can provide a relaxing respite, and reduce stress, anxiety, and tension.

Facts Sheet on Massage

More than 100 million Americans suffer from lower-back pain, and nearly $25 billion a year is spent in search of relief. A 2003 study showed that massage therapy produced better results and reduced the need for painkillers by 36 percent when compared to other therapies, including acupuncture and spinal modification. Today, massage therapy is one of the most common ways people ease back pain.
Source: Annals of Internal Medicine, June 3, 2003

Studies show that seventy to eighty five percent of Americans experience back pain at some point in life. It is the usual culprit when people below the age of forty five have limited range of motion and need to curtail normal activity. It can be triggered by inactivity or too much activity or the wrong kind of movement. Standing or sitting for long periods can trigger it. In women, wearing high heels often becomes impossible. You can prevent and treat back pain through massage therapy.

Back pain is affliction that plagues the United States and will affect 90% of all Americans, some point in their life. Typically back pain strikes health and unhealthy adults at age 45+ and is typically caused by doing an awkward movement after sitting for a long period of time. Since most of us sit down 90% of our waking hours every time we get up back pain can strike.

Back pain is the second leading chronic pain condition for physician visits, and the morbidity rate associated with back pain is the most frequent cause of work absenteeism, the study reports. The study included 30 adults experiencing low back pain with duration for at least 6 months.  Business Wire, July 11, 2006,



Benefits of massage by Mayo Clinic Staff

Massage is generally considered part of complementary and alternative medicine. It's increasingly being offered along with standard treatment for a wide range of medical conditions and situations.

Studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate that it is an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension.

While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage may also be helpful for:

  • Anxiety
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia related to stress
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Paresthesias and nerve pain
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Temporomandibular joint pain

Beyond the benefits for specific conditions or diseases, some people enjoy massage because it often involves caring, comfort, a sense of empowerment and creating deep connections with their massage therapist.

Despite its benefits, massage isn't meant as a replacement for regular medical care. Let your doctor know you're trying massage and be sure to follow any standard treatment plans you have.

Risks of massage

Most people can benefit from massage. However, massage may not be appropriate if you have:

  • Bleeding disorders or take blood-thinning medication
  • Burns, open or healing wounds
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Fractures
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Severe thrombocytopenia

Discuss the pros and cons of massage with your doctor, especially if you are pregnant or have cancer or unexplained pain.

Some forms of massage can leave you feeling a bit sore the next day. But massage shouldn't ordinarily be painful or uncomfortable. If any part of your massage doesn't feel right or is painful, speak up right away. Most serious problems come from too much pressure during massage.

Shiatsu Acupressure Massage
  • Uses hand and finger pressure along energy pathways (meridians) with mild stretching to balance the flow of energy through the body and encourage healing
  • "Acupuncture without needles"
  • Same benefits as massage
  • Stimulates immune function and promotes parasympathetic response
  • Can be used when regular massage is contraindicated

Lymphatic Drainage Massage

  • Very light massage facilitating the flow of the lymph involving light, repetitive strokes of the skin
  • Used to reduce swelling and edema
  • Improves immune function
  • Aides in enhancing soft tissue healing and reducing scar tissue after surgery
  • Promotes parasympathetic response reducing stress and tension



Study Examines the Effects of Swedish Massage Therapy on Hormones, Immune Function

Massage is used for many health purposes, but little is known about how it works on a biological level. A recent study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the effects of one session of Swedish massage therapy—a form of massage using long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping—on the body's hormonal response and immune function.

Funded in part by NCCAM, researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, randomly assigned 53 healthy adults to receive one session of either Swedish massage or light touch (in which the therapist used only a light touch with the back of the hand). Both interventions lasted 45 minutes and were performed by a licensed massage therapist. Blood samples taken before and after the sessions were used to determine blood levels of certain hormones and circulating lymphocytes (white blood cells). The researchers found that participants who received Swedish massage had a significant decrease in the hormone arginine-vasopressin (which plays a role in regulating blood pressure and water retention) compared with those who were treated with light touch. No significant differences between the two groups were found for the stress hormone cortisol or in circulating lymphocytes. Significant decreases in proteins called cytokines (interleukin 4 and interleukin 10), but not others (interleukin 1 beta, interleukin 2, interleukin 5, and tumor necrosis factor alpha), were found for the massage group compared with the light touch group.

These preliminary data led the researchers to conclude that a single session of Swedish massage produces measurable biological effects and may have an effect on the immune system. However, more research is needed to determine the specific mechanisms and pathways behind these changes.









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