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Massage Therapy Research Fact Sheet      massage1.jpg massage5.jpg

Massage..more than pampering

Words like "relaxation" and "pampering" are often used to describe a person's idea of a good massage. In fact, 26 percent of the 39 million Americans who got a massage last year say it's for relaxation or stress reduction, according to a recent survey commissioned by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Only 11 percent say it was to pamper themselves. Although relaxation plays an important role in one's overall health and wellness, another 30 percent of those surveyed say they get massage therapy for medical/health reasons specifically.

Massage therapy has been shown to address serious health issues by relieving symptoms associated with a variety of conditions. Here's a look at just some of the ways in which massage therapy can be effective.

Relieve Back Pain

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

Treat Migraines

Of the 45 million Americans who suffer from chronic headaches, more than 60 percent suffer from migraines. For many, it's a distressing disorder that is triggered by stress and poor sleep. In a recent study, massage therapy recipients exhibited fewer migraines and better sleep quality during the weeks they received massage, and the three weeks following, than did participants that did not receive massage therapy. Another study found that in adults with migraine headaches massage therapy decreased the occurrence of headaches, sleep disturbances and distress symptoms. It also increased serotonin levels, believed to play an important role in the regulation of mood, sleep and appetite.
Sources: Annals of Behavioral Medicine, August 2006; International Journal of Neuroscience, 1998.

Ease Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressively painful condition that causes numbness and tingling in the thumb and middle fingers. Traditional treatments for carpal tunnel range from a wrist brace to surgery. However, a 2004 study found that carpal tunnel patients receiving massage reported significantly less pain, reduced symptoms and improved grip strength than those patients who did not receive massage.
Source: Touch Research Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 8, 9-14.

Reduce Anxiety

An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from depression. A review of more than a dozen massage studies concluded that massage therapy helps relieve depression and anxiety by affecting the body's biochemistry. In the studies reviewed, researchers measured the stress hormone cortisol in participants before and immediately after massage and found that the therapy lowered levels by up to 53 percent. Massage also increased serotonin and dopamine, and neurotransmitters that help reduce depression.
Source: Touch Research Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine.

Alleviate Side Effects of Cancer

Massage therapy is increasingly being applied to symptoms experienced by cancer patients, such as nausea, pain and fatigue. Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center asked patients to report the severity of their symptoms before and after receiving massage therapy. Patients reported reduced levels of anxiety, pain, fatigue, depression and nausea, even up to two days later.
Source: Journal of Pain & Symptom Management, September 2004.

In a study of breast cancer patients, researchers found that those who were massaged three times a week reported lower levels of depression, anxiety and anger, while increasing "natural killer" cells and lymphocytes that help to battle cancerous tumors.
Source: Touch Research Institutes, University of Miami School of Medicine, Journal of Psychosomatic
Research, Volume 57, Issue 1, Pages 45-52, July 2004.

Lower Blood Pressure

Hypertension, if left unchecked, can lead to organ damage. Preliminary research shows that hypertensive patients who received three 10-minute back massages a week had a reduction in blood pressure, compared to patients who simply relaxed without a massage.
Source: Biological Research For Nursing, Vol. 7, No. 2, 98-105 (2005).

Tips for Before, During and After Your Massage     

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You play a vital part in the success of your massage. To fully reap the benefits of massage therapy, consider the following:


  • Do not eat for at least an hour before a massage session.
  • If you don't want to remove all your clothing, wear comfortable clothing that will allow the massage therapist to access the areas of your body you want worked on.
  • Be on time.
  • Give the massage therapist accurate health information.


  • Communicate clearly. Report any discomfort from the massage or distractions from the environment, such as room temperature, music volume and lighting. Give feedback about amount of pressure or the speed of their hand movement.
  • Don't be afraid to discuss any apprehensions or concerns.
  • Discuss whether you prefer silence or music.
  • Let your massage therapist know whether you would prefer to talk or not while you are being massaged.
  • Breathe to facilitate relaxation, especially when the massage therapist is addressing a sensitive or sore spot. 
  • Try to relax muscles when they tighten during the massage session.
  • Calm your thoughts by focusing on the touch of the massage therapist. 


  • If you are dizzy or light-headed after the massage, do not get off the table too fast.
  • Drink extra water after a massage.
  • Allow time to absorb the results of the massage session and to slowly reintegrate into the rest of your day.

Some Things You Should Know About Massage

Most Americans know that massage therapy can help relieve stress and pain, reduce blood pressure and boost the immune system. And, more people than ever are trying massage for the first time.

Perhaps you received a gift certificate for massage. Maybe work's been stressful, and you've thought about getting a massage to unwind. Or maybe you're already a fan of massage and want to try a different type of massage.

Whatever your reasons, there are some basic things you should know to get the most from your massage.

There are many terms for types of massage. The American Massage Therapy Association? (AMTA) designates the various methods as massage modalities. Ask your massage therapist what massage modality will give you the results you want.

The most popular include:   massage7.jpg massage6.jpg

  • Swedish massage: The most common type of massage, to relax and energize you.

  • Deep tissue massage: For muscle damage from an injury, such as whiplash or back

  • Sports massage: To help prevent athletic injury, keep the body flexible and heal the
    body should injury occur.

  • Chair massage: Massage of the upper body, while fully clothed and seated in a special
    portable chair.

Finding a qualified massage therapist is also important. Ask your massage therapist about his or her credentials. And remember, each massage and bodywork modality requires specialized training.

AMTA, which requires members meet education standards, recommends asking the following questions:

  • Did you graduate from a program accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) or from an AMTA member school?

  • Are you licensed or registered as a massage therapist in this state? Not all states license
    massage therapists.

  • Are you a member of AMTA?

  • Are you certified by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and

  • Do you have training in any specific massage modalities?

Trained massage therapists are happy to share their credentials with clients. Thirty-seven [37] states and Washington, D.C. regulate the profession as do many municipalities when there is no statewide regulation.

People today look to massage therapy for more than pampering. In fact, ten years of consumer surveys by AMTA indicate adult Americans seek massage for health and medical conditions more than just because it feels good. And, more than ever, other healthcare providers often refer their patients to massage therapists.

Recent research shows that massage provides relief for chronic low back pain, eases pain and muscle spasms following bypass surgery, and is effective in treating lymphedema, a condition common among mastectomy survivors.