Massage therapy

Massage therapy, also known as massage or therapeutic massage, refers to a range of types of massage therapies that use touch to encourage relaxation and promote physical and psychological healing.

What is massage therapy?

Massage therapy aims to relax your body and mind by slowing down your nervous system, relieving stress and tension, healing injuries and supporting well-being. During a massage therapy session, a licensed massage therapist rubs and kneads the soft tissues of your body with varying amounts of pressure and movement.

Massage therapy is generally considered part of integrative medicine. It is offered more and more as an alternative treatment alongside standard medical treatments.

Hands pressing on skin

Is massage therapy effective?

Physical therapist working with female client

Research supports the effectiveness of massage therapy on the mind and body. These days people sit more than ever, and chronic prolonged sitting has serious health implications. Massage therapy helps reduce stress, lessen pain and muscle tension, increases relaxation and enhances your sense of well-being.

In a variety of studies, massages have proven to help speed the recovery of surgery patients and increase the productivity of office workers via on-site chair massages (15- to 20-minute sessions).

Massage therapy relieves chronic pain, acute musculoskeletal issues and lower back pain with a technique called trigger point therapy. Skilled massage therapists can also help speed up muscle and tendon recovery, particularly at the elbows, Achilles tendons and knees.

What are the different types of massage therapy?

  • Chair massage, which has been shown to help prevent overuse injuries, relieve pain and stiffness, lower blood pressure and improve job satisfaction for employees who sit at their desks all day long.
  • Deep tissue massage, which may involve rigorous pressure and depends on the patient and the massage therapist’s procedure.
  • Hot stone massage, which involves the placement of heated stones to the body.
  • Lymphatic drainage massage, which helps remove excess fluid from the body through the lymph system, which is appropriate for those who have recently had a mastectomy.
  • Myofascial release, or connective tissue massage which works on manipulating the tightened fascia (connective tissue) associated with restricted muscle movement, often as a common therapy for fibromyalgia patients.
  • Nuru massage, a type of therapy that uses warmed oil to stimulate blood flow throughout the body.
  • Prenatal massage, which is mostly done as a Swedish massage for pregnant people.
  • Reflexology massage, which applies pressure with the therapist’s thumbs or fingers to trigger points on the feet, ears and hands.
  • Shiatsu massage, Japanese massage techniques working with acupressure points in the body.
  • Sports massage, which helps athletes recover from overexertion more quickly so they can return to training sooner.
  • Swedish massage, which has been shown to be the most effective for reducing stress and improving sleep.
  • Thai massage, which involves pressure points, joint mobilization and muscle compression that may lead to a feeling of energy and rejuvenation.

What health conditions can massage therapy help improve?

Massage therapy cannot cure medical conditions, but patients report that its use improved their well-being.

  • Alzheimer’s and forms of dementia, by decreasing agitation and aggression and increasing reassurance and connection with others.
  • Anxiety.
  • Arthritis.
  • Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma.
  • Back and neck pain.
  • Blood flow, tissue health, food sensation, and balance, from Diabetes Foot Reflexology and Thai massages.
  • Cancer-related pain.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), by strengthening hands or wrists and reducing the severity of pain symptoms.
  • Children with chronic health conditions.
  • Chronic kidney disease, kidney failure, and dialysis, as well as relief from symptoms such as itching, leg cramping, and improving overall quality of life.
  • Chronic ailments, including chronic low-back pain and chronic muscle pain.
  • Circulatory problems.
  • Depression.
  • Digestive disorders.
  • Fibromyalgia and myofascial pain.
  • Headaches.
  • Hypertension, especially if Swedish massage is used as it reliably lowers blood pressure.
  • Immune function, by increasing white blood cells that help fight off infection.
  • Insomnia, reducing insomnia symptoms and improving sleep quality for many.
  • Menopause and perimenopause.
  • Painful menstruation.
  • Pain management, reducing reliance on opioid drugs.
  • Parkinson’s disease, by reducing stiffness and improving gait.
  • Peripheral neuropathy.
  • Prenatal/postnatal ailments, helping with swelling and pain relief.
  • Plantar fasciitis-lower leg stimulation.
  • Post-mastectomy lymphedema.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), if patients are comfortable being touched.
  • Sinusitis.
  • Sports injuries, especially for tendons, strains, and sprains.
  • Temporomandibular joints dysfunction (TMJ) and joint pain.
Mother and daughter doing a one-legged yoga pose

What can I expect during massage therapy treatment?

Before your massage session

To help determine which massage program is right for you, your therapist might ask you to fill out a brief questionnaire, or answer questions, regarding your health and medical history.

Anyone can benefit from massage therapy; however, in the presence of certain illnesses or conditions, your massage professional might have to modify their technique. Specifically, please inform your therapist if you have low blood counts, a lymph disease, bone disease, sensitive skin, are undergoing radiation, are pregnant or nursing, or have any problem areas where you’d like extra attention. If you are taking any medicines, herbs, or supplements, please inform your therapist.

During your session

You will be taken to a warm, comfortable room where you will be given privacy to disrobe and relax on a cushioned massage table. A sheet will always cover your body, and only the parts being massaged will be exposed. Massage therapists use different combinations of techniques to address your unique needs. Your therapist will apply a light cream, lotion, or oil to your skin to reduce the friction created by massage. As your massage is being performed, feel free to talk, listen to music, rest your eyes, or sleep. At the conclusion of your therapy, you will enjoy a moment of privacy to relax and dress.

After your massage

Expect to leave your massage feeling calm, relaxed, and free of aches and pains. After an initial period of extreme relaxation, patients often experience several days of increased energy. Depending on the depth and intensity of the massage performed, it is possible to feel mild muscle aches for one to two days after therapy.

During massage therapy, your body metabolizes and releases waste products. To expedite the removal of these toxins, drink plenty of water before and after your session. Don’t exercise immediately after your massage; if possible, rest instead. Exercise can both increase muscle soreness and compromise the effects of massage therapy.

FAQs about massage therapy (therapeutic massage)

Who performs therapeutic massage, and how does it work?

Massage therapists receive quality education and are trained, certified medical professionals. They’re skilled at helping people improve their health and/or function through manipulation of their skin, fascia (the connective tissue), or muscles. A massage therapist provides a gentle touch, with slight pressure, to help relieve pain in patients.

Therapeutic massages are safe interventions, with a low risk of injury or adverse events. Massage therapy has been used in a variety of different settings outside of clinics or spas, including in health facilities, nursing centers, and long-term healthcare facilities.

What are the health benefits of massage therapy?

Massage therapy offers various health benefits, including stress reduction, relaxation, and improved circulation, which can help alleviate muscle tension, promote pain relief, and enhance overall well-being.

Is therapeutic massage therapy covered by insurance?

Some insurance plans may provide coverage for therapeutic massage therapy, especially if it is prescribed by a healthcare professional for a specific medical condition. It is important to check with your insurance provider to determine if it is covered and to what extent.

Are there any side effects of massage therapy?

Side effects of massage therapy are generally minimal and temporary. They may include temporary soreness, fatigue, or mild bruising. It is important to stay hydrated, communicate with your therapist, and listen to your body to ensure a positive experience.

What does “therapeutic” mean in massage therapy?

A therapeutic massage describes any type of massage in a clinical setting that helps relieve pain and reduce stress on a specific part of the body where there is a health issue (such as a frozen shoulder), whereas a relaxation massage typically encompasses the entire body, aiming to promote overall relaxation and stress relief.

How long is a typical therapeutic massage therapy session?

The duration of a therapeutic massage session can vary depending on individual needs and preferences. It usually ranges from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, with 60 minutes being a common standard.

References

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Massage Therapy: What You Need To Know (https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/massage-therapy-what-you-need-to-know)

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Massage Therapy for Health: What the Science Says (https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/massage-therapy-for-health-science)