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What are the benefits of massage? How can massage therapy help with pain management?

Benefits of Massage Therapy Manage Pain, Improve Performance


Massage Therapy is defined as the manual manipulation of soft tissue intended to promote health and well-being. It is a growing field with more than 325,000 therapists in the US providing services to millions of patients and clients, from anything for general health and well-being to more specific ailments and medical needs. Massage Therapy is a key component in many people’s pain management and overall health and wellness.

One of our biggest goals as practitioners is to do what we can to have our clients or patients leave feeling better than how they arrived. It’s no secret that after leaving a massage session, people generally feel more relaxed, less tense, and in less pain, and the research over the years has helped to support those claims in a more controlled environment.


Massage is a method of pain management that is on the front lines of fighting the opioids crisis. It has been accepted as a nonpharmacological therapy option for managing varying chronic pain issues. This includes, but is not limited to, back pain, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and osteoarthritis. Furthermore, it is recognized by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and is included in nonpharmacological pain guidelines by the Joint Commission, as well as the American College of Physicians. Below are a few common conditions of which people would choose to go to massage therapy as part of their treatment, and research to support the use of massage therapy for those conditions.

Back Pain

Back pain, especially lower back pain, is something that is likely familiar to most people at some point in their life. Massage is a common choice of treatment for those individuals, and for good reason. For instance, a systematic review was done that highlighted that massage was superior to sham laser therapy, relaxation therapy, and self-care education, but was equal to exercise. In another study done on 401 individuals who were suffering from non-specific low back pain, it was found that massage had superior functional outcomes and symptom improvement than those in the usual care group, with benefits lasting up to 6 months. Another study done on mostly women with lower back pain showed that massage therapy was more efficacious in reducing pain than TENS and UltraSound in physical therapy.

Neck and Shoulder Pain

Neck and shoulder pain, often combined with some sort of headache and migraine symptoms, is becoming more and more prevalent. Between working at computers for 8+ hours a day, people having poor breathing mechanics, people being told to do exercises that they aren’t prepared to do in physical fitness settings, and life stressors building up and causing tension, neck, and shoulder pain are common occurrences for many people. Massage therapy is a viable option for those suffering from this. Massage has been shown to yield greater pain reduction when compared to inactive therapies. A controlled trial where people were given 10 massage sessions over 10 weeks or a self-care book for managing neck pain showed that the massage therapy group had greater improvement in the Neck Disability Index score for those who received massage therapy.

Headaches and Migraines

Massage therapy has shown promise for those who suffer from chronic headaches and migraines. Those who underwent massage treatment and suffer from tension headaches experienced a decrease in physical pains from headaches, as well as lower subjective stress, anxiety, and depression levels. Another study looked at individuals suffering from migraines and investigated how massage therapy influenced them. 47 participants were divided up into a control or massage group and measured their migraines and sleep patterns for 13 weeks. From weeks 5-10, weekly massage was administered to the massage group. Results showed that the massage group had a lower frequency of migraines, as well as improved sleep quality during the intervention weeks, and the following 3 weeks of no massage intervention.


Osteoarthritis is a pathology that is described as the degeneration of cartilage in joints, typically due to compressive and shearing forces, although this is a hypothesis and the condition is not fully understood. As a byproduct of this degradation, pain, and inflammation often occurs locally around the joint. In individuals who are suffering from OA in the knee joint, massage has been shown to reduce pain in the area. Evidence has also shown massage to decrease stiffness, pain, and enhance function at joints with OA and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Compared to interventions with just exercise, it was found that patients who received massage therapy, along with exercise showed significant improvements in pain and WOMAC index(a questionnaire that questions you about your OA symptoms).

Stress Reduction and Depression

Stress and anxiety reduction are very common for physician referrals and patient requests for massage. Massage therapy has been shown to help manage stress and anxiety, along with helping to manage the physical presentations of it. A meta-analysis of 37 randomized control trials showed massage being effective in alleviating anxiety, negative mood, and non-acute pain. Certain styles, such as Swedish massage, have been shown to be effective for treating acute generalized anxiety disorder. Another meta-analysis reviewed the association between massage alleviating symptoms of depression, which found that massage helped reduce depression in individuals compared to no treatment or light touch. Massage has also been researched in military veterans who suffer from PTSD. It proved to help decrease anxiety, depression, worry, physical pains, along with lowering their tension and irritability.

Performance Training/Injury Rehab

Massage is a very common modality used in athletes’ regular care regimens, as well as generally active individuals. For injury treatment, massage is often a modality used in conjunction with exercise. A study was done on triathletes after running a triathlon to determine if massage would have an effect on pain and perceived fatigue in the quadriceps of athletes after long-distance triathlon races. The study showed that the group who received massage therapy was more effective at decreasing pain and perceived fatigue than the no intervention group.

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