Massage Therapy’s Top 10 Benefits

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Massage feels great and now research shows it can impact your health in many ways. From depression and insomnia to preterm birth and autism, massage offers important health gains that can benefit people from young to old

Massage is seen as a way to relax and indulge, but did you know there is a wealth of scientific research documenting the health benefits of massage? The top 10 conditions most benefited by massage are as follows.

1. Depression

Baby massages decreased mothers' postpartum depression and increased mother-baby interactions.[i],[ii] Massaged mothers had less postpartum depression, decreased anxiety and pain during labor and shortened labor time and hospital stays.[iii]

Women who were massaged during pregnancy were also less likely to have a premature birth or baby with low birth weight.[iv] Senior depression was also reduced with aromatherapy massage.[v] Massage also alleviated depressive symptoms in a meta-analysis of 786 individuals.[vi]

2. Preterm Births

Massage therapy benefited preterm infants leading to higher weight and growth.[vii] Massage increased vagal activity (vagus nerve regulates heart rate, vessel constriction, heart/lungs/digestive tract activities), gastric motility (greater food digestion)[viii] and led to higher awake periods and motor activity for pre-term babies.[ix]

Massaged healthy preterm infants gained more weight and were more active.[x] Massaged cocaine-exposed preterm neonates had 28% greater weight gain, fewer postnatal complications and better motor skills.[xi]

3. Autism

Massage benefits autistic children by increasing the emotional bond with parents;[xii] improving language, social skills and behaviors;[xiii] lowering conduct problems and anxiety;[xiv] and enhancing touch tolerance, routine tasks and communication with parents.[xv]

4. Insomnia

Insomnia and sleep disorders can benefit from massage as well. For example, foot massage with acupuncture improved sleep quality for patients with insomnia.[xvi] Massage improved sleep quality and life quality of end-stage renal disease patients suffering from sleep disorders.[xvii] Advanced cancer patients receiving massage also improved their sleep and experienced reduced depression.[xviii]

5. Immunity

Scientific research is uncovering the link between massage therapies and immunity. A study of aromatherapy massage showed immune properties and psychological benefits.[xix] Swedish massage also increased immunity markers for healthy adults.[xx]

Massaged patients with HIV showed increased cytotoxic capacity (as illustrated with higher natural killer cell (NKC) numbers and cytotoxicity, and lymphocytes).[xxi] Breast cancer patients receiving massage showed greater immunity (increased dopamine levels, NKC, and lymphocytes).[xxii],[xxiii]

Aromatherapy massage can be beneficial for the immune systems of colorectal cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, by increasing the number of lymphocytes and reducing common symptoms of pain, stress and fatigue.[xxiv] Massage also improved well-being and helped to delay symptom progression in Parkinson's disease patients.[xxv]

6. Cancer

A meta-analysis of 14 cancer studies demonstrated multiple benefits, including decreased pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, anger, stress and fatigue, when massage was used as a treatment.[xxvi] Massaged cancer patients reduced their pain, symptom distress and anxiety.[xxvii]

In a meta-analysis of 559 patients (12 studies), massage relieved cancer pain, particularly surgery-related.[xxviii] Touch therapies showed positive outcomes during bone marrow transplants.[xxix] Massaged breast cancer patients experienced lower nausea,[xxx] depression and neuropathy (nerve damage) from cancer treatments as well.[xxxi]

7. Knee Osteoarthritis (OA)

Short-term relief from knee pain intensity, stiffness and greater physical function was found with aromatherapy massage in 59 seniors.[xxxii] Osteoarthritic knee patients, who massaged their knee with ginger oil, lowered knee pain and increased knee function.[xxxiii]

Swedish massage helped those with knee OA improve in pain severity, stiffness, physical function, range of motion and time (seconds) to walk 50 feet.[xxxiv]

Sixty OA patients randomly assigned to Thai massage, Thai herbal compress or oral ibuprofen had similar improvements in pain, stiffness, function and climbing steps.[xxxv]  Massage remarkably has been shown to be an effective natural alternative to drugs (some with long term side effects) for relief of osteoarthritis in the knee.

8. Lower Back Pain (LBP)

Massage benefited lower back pain patients, according to a meta-analysis of eight studies and the improvements lasted for at least a year.[xxxvi] Massage with stretching was also shown to reduce LBP intensity and increase range of motion.[xxxvii] A randomized trial of 262 subjects with chronic LBP confirmed the benefits of massage to those from 20 to 70 years old.[xxxviii]

9. Headaches

In a comparison study of the drug Amitriptyline, massage significantly benefitted those who experienced chronic tension-type headaches (CTTHs) by decreasing pain intensity and lowering tissue hardness.[xxxix] CTTH sufferers receiving neck/shoulder massages also lowered headache frequency and duration.[xl]

10. Stress

In a review of 21 studies, massage increased relaxation in seniors.[xli] Touch managed dementia symptoms including restlessness and stress.[xlii] In healthy adults, research showed that massage decreased heart rate, blood pressure and stress; improved muscle tension and emotional state;[xliii],[xliv] and increased oxygen exchange (lower chance of fatigue, restlessness, shortness of breath, high blood pressure) and relaxation.[xlv]

Massage Benefits

Massage has scientifically proven benefits for healthy adults to de-stress and improves depression, cancer, immunity, knee/back problems, insomnia and headaches for those afflicted with these conditions. Autistic children and premature infants also benefit from massage treatments. For more information about the wide-ranging benefits of massage, please see the Massage/Therapeutic Touch Research Database.


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[2] K Onozawa, V Glover, D Adams, N Modi, R C Kumar. Infant massage improves mother-infant interaction for mothers with postnatal depression. J Affect Disord. 2001 Mar;63(1-3):201-7. PMID: 11246096

[3]T Field, M Hernandez-Reif, S Taylor, O Quintino, I Burman. Labor pain is reduced by massage therapy. J Physiol Biochem. 2009 Dec;65(4):369-76. PMID: 9443139

[4] T Field, M A Diego, M Hernandez-Reif, S Schanberg, C Kuhn. Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2004 Jun;25(2):115-22. PMID: 15715034


[6] Wen-Hsuan Hou, Pai-Tsung Chiang, Tun-Yen Hsu, Su-Ying Chiu, Yung-Chieh Yen. Treatment effects of massage therapy in depressed people: a meta-analysis. J Clin Psychiatry. 2010 Jul;71(7):894-901. Epub 2010 Mar 23. PMID: 20361919

[7]Tiffany Field, Miguel Diego, Maria Hernandez-Reif, John N I Dieter, Adarsh M Kumar, Saul Schanberg, Cynthia Kuhn. Insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 increased in preterm neonates following massage therapy. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2008 Dec;29(6):463-6. PMID: 18714203

[8] Miguel A Diego, Tiffany Field, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Osvelia Deeds, Angela Ascencio, Gisela Begert. Preterm infant massage elicits consistent increases in vagal activity and gastric motility that are associated with greater weight gain. Acta Paediatr. 2007 Nov;96(11):1588-91. Epub 2007 Sep 21. PMID: 17888059

[9] Lee HK. The effect of infant massage on weight gain, physiological and behavioral responses in premature infants. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005;35:1452-60. PMID: 16415626 DOI: 10.4040/jkan.2005.35.8.1451

[10] John N I Dieter, Tiffany Field, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Eugene K Emory, Mercedes Redzepi. Stable preterm infants gain more weight and sleep less after five days of massage therapy. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Nov 24;168(21):2311-6. PMID: 12904452

[11] A Wheeden, F A Scafidi, T Field, G Ironson, C Valdeon, E Bandstra. Massage effects on cocaine-exposed preterm neonates. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 1993 Oct;14(5):318-22. PMID: 8254063

[12] Lesley A Cullen-Powell, Julie H Barlow, Delia Cushway. Exploring a massage intervention for parents and their children with autism: the implications for bonding and attachment. J Child Health Care. 2005 Dec;9(4):245-55. PMID: 16275663

[13] Louisa M T Silva, Mark Schalock, Robert Ayres, Carol Bunse, Sarojini Budden. Qigong massage treatment for sensory and self-regulation problems in young children with autism: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Occup Ther. 2009 Jul-Aug;63(4):423-32. PMID: 19708471

[14] Krisna Piravej, Preeda Tangtrongchitr, Parichawan Chandarasiri, Luksamee Paothong, Saengaroon Sukprasong. Effects of Thai traditional massage on autistic children's behavior. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Dec;15(12):1355-61. PMID: 20001837

[15] Lesley Cullen, Julie Barlow. 'Kiss, cuddle, squeeze': the experiences and meaning of touch among parents of children with autism attending a Touch Therapy Programme. J Child Health Care. 2002 Sep;6(3):171-81. PMID: 12224834

[16] Zhi-Guo Zhong, Heng Cai, Xiao-Long Li, Dong Lü. Effect of acupuncture combined with massage of sole on sleeping quality of the patient with insomnia. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2001 Oct;48(4):487-91. PMID: 18630537

[17] Shiow-Luan Tsay, Jiin-Ru Rong, Pay-Fan Lin. Acupoints massage in improving the quality of sleep and quality of life in patients with end-stage renal disease. J Adv Nurs. 2003 Apr;42(2):134-42. PMID: 12670382

[18] Katie Soden, Karen Vincent, Stephen Craske, Caroline Lucas, Sue Ashley. A randomized controlled trial of aromatherapy massage in a hospice setting. Palliat Med. 2004 Mar;18(2):87-92. PMID: 15046404

[19] Hiroko Kuriyama, Satoko Watanabe, Takaaki Nakaya, Ichiro Shigemori, Masakazu Kita, Noriko Yoshida, Daiki Masaki, Toshiaki Tadai, Kotaro Ozasa, Kenji Fukui, Jiro Imanishi. Immunological and Psychological Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005 Jun;2(2):179-184. Epub 2005 Apr 27. PMID: 15937558

[20] Mark H. Rapaport, Pamela Schettler, and Catherine Bresee, A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Repeated Massage on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal and Immune Function in Healthy Individuals: A Study of Mechanisms of Action and Dosage. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Aug; 18(8): 789-797. PMCID: PMC3419840, PMID: 22775448, DOI: 10.1089/acm.2011.0071

[21] G Ironson, T Field, F Scafidi, M Hashimoto, M Kumar, A Kumar, A Price, A Goncalves, I Burman, C Tetenman, R Patarca, M A Fletcher. Massage therapy is associated with enhancement of the immune system's cytotoxic capacity. Int J Neurosci. 1996 Feb;84(1-4):205-17. PMID: 8707483

[22] Maria Hernandez-Reif, Tiffany Field, Gail Ironson, Julia Beutler, Yanexy Vera, Judith Hurley, Mary Ann Fletcher, Saul Schanberg, Cynthia Kuhn, Monica Fraser. Natural killer cells and lymphocytes increase in women with breast cancer following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005 Apr;115(4):495-510. PMID: 15809216

[23] Abrahão, C. A., Bomfim, E., Lopes-Júnior, L. C., & Pereira-da-Silva, G. (2019). Complementary Therapies as a Strategy to Reduce Stress and Stimulate Immunity of Women With Breast Cancer. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine.

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[31]Idan Ben-Horin, Peretz Kahan, Larisa Ryvo, Moshe Inbar, Shahar Lev-Ari, Ravit Geva. Acupuncture and Reflexology for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy in Breast Cancer. Integr Cancer Ther2017 09 ;16(3):258-262. Epub 2017 Feb 2. PMID: 28150504

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[33] Betul Tosun, Nursemin Unal, Deniz Yigit, Nuray Can, Ozlem Aslan, Servet Tunay. Effects of Self-Knee Massage With Ginger Oil in Patients With Osteoarthritis: An Experimental Study. Res Theory Nurs Pract. 2017 Nov 1 ;31(4):379-392. PMID: 29137696

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[37] Jada Bell. Massage therapy helps to increase range of motion, decrease pain and assist in healing a client with low back pain and sciatica symptoms. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2008 Jul;12(3):281-9. Epub 2008 Apr 10. PMID: 19083683

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[39] Peerada Damapong, Naowarat Kanchanakhan, Wichai Eungpinichpong, Prasobsook Putthapitak, Pongmada Damapong. A Randomized Controlled Trial on the Effectiveness of Court-Type Traditional Thai Massage versus Amitriptyline in Patients with Chronic Tension-Type Headache. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015 ;2015:930175. Epub 2015 Sep 15. PMID: 26472986

[40] Christopher Quinn, Clint Chandler, Albert Moraska. Massage therapy and frequency of chronic tension headaches. Am J Public Health. 2002 Oct;92(10):1657-61. PMID: 12356617

[41] Melodee Harris, Kathy C Richards. The physiological and psychological effects of slow-stroke back massage and hand massage on relaxation in older people. J Clin Nurs. 2010 Apr;19(7-8):917-26. PMID: 20492036

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