Massage therapy, also known as simply 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.
About 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.
Massage therapy is generally considered part of integrative medicine. It is offered more and more as an alternative treatment alongside standard medical treatments.
Is massage therapy effective?
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 one’s 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.
Different types of massage
- 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 either heated or cooled 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.
Massage therapy can help improve a wide range of conditions
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.
- 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.
- Digestive disorders.
- Fibromyalgia and myofascial pain.
- 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.
- Sports injuries, especially for tendons, strains, and sprains.
- Temporomandibular joints dysfunction (TMJ) and joint pain.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about massage therapy (therapeutic massage)
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.
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.
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)