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Stephanie Colemere, LMT, NCTMB, AMTA | Article

Massage Therapy for Health Purposes

6/2/2014
This article is provided for you by NCCAM - National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Massage Therapy for Health Purposes


ONLINE- February 2014

Massage therapy dates back thousands of years, with roots in many different cultures. The term “massage therapy” includes many different styles and techniques in which the therapist uses varying degrees of pressure and manipulation to muscle and other soft tissue.

A lot of the scientific research on the clinical effects of massage therapy has been carried out. While often preliminary or conflicting, much of the evidence points toward beneficial effects on pain and other symptoms associated with a number of different conditions. For example, there is evidence that massage may help with back pain and may improve quality of life for people with depression, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. However, much of the evidence suggests these effects are short term and that people need to keep getting massages for the benefits to continue.

This issue of the digest provides information on what the science currently says about the clinical effects of massage for several health conditions, including pain, cancer, depression, and others.

Massage Therapy for Health Purposes :
What the Science Says


Pain

Strength of Evidence
Many clinical studies have been done on the effects of massage for pain conditions.

Research Results
A 2008 Cochrane systematic review and 2011 NCCAM-funded clinical trial concluded that massage may be useful for chronic low-back pain. Clinical practice guidelines, issued jointly by the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society, recommends that for patients who do not improve with self-care options, clinicians should consider the addition of nonpharmacologic therapy with proven benefits—for chronic or subacute low back pain, intensive interdisciplinary rehabilitation, exercise therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, spinal manipulation, yoga, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or progressive relaxation.
A 2009 NCCAM-funded clinical trial reported that massage may help with chronic neck pain.
According to a 2012 NCCAM-funded study, massage may help with pain due to osteoarthritis of the knee.
Studies suggest that for women in labor, massage provided some pain relief and increased their satisfaction with other forms of pain relief, but a 2012 review concluded that the evidence is not strong.
Clinical trials on the effects of massage for headaches are preliminary and only somewhat promising.

Cancer

Strength of Evidence
Much research has been conducted on massage therapy for people with cancer.

Research Results
Numerous systematic reviews and clinical studies have suggested that at least for the short-term, massage therapy for cancer patients may reduce pain, promote relaxation, and boost mood.

Depression

Strength of Evidence
Many clinical trials have been conducted to evaluate the effects of massage therapy on mental health conditions, such as depression.

Research Results
A 2010 meta-analysis of 17 clinical trials concluded that massage therapy may help to reduce depression.
In a 2012 exploratory study funded by NCCAM, investigators compared standard prenatal care with brief twice weekly yoga or massage sessions for 12 weeks in pregnant women suffering from depression. They found a decrease in depression, anxiety, and back and leg pain among those who received massage or yoga. Also, the women’s babies weighed more than babies born to women who didn’t receive the therapy. However, a 2013 Cochrane review concluded that there is not enough evidence to make recommendations about massage therapy for pregnant mothers with depression.

Fibromyalgia

Strength of Evidence
Several studies have investigated whether massage therapy has any beneficial effects on pain and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.

Research Results
A 2010 review concluded that massage therapy may help temporarily reduce pain, fatigue, and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, but the evidence is not definitive. The authors of the review noted that it is important that the massage therapist not cause pain.

HIV/AIDS

Strength of Evidence
A few studies have examined the effects of massage therapy on the quality of life for people with HIV or AIDS.

Research Results
A 2010 systematic review of four small clinical trials concluded that massage therapy may help improve the quality of life for people with HIV or AIDS.

Infant Care

Strength of Evidence
Several studies on massage therapy in preterm infants have been conducted to determine if therapeutic massage provides any benefits.

Research Results
A 2010 review suggested that massaging preterm infants using moderate pressure may improve weight gain. However, a 2013 review determined that there is not enough evidence to know if massage benefits healthy infants who are developing normally.

Other Conditions

Current evidence from completed or ongoing research is insufficient to make conclusions about whether massage is helpful for the following conditions:
Behavior of children with autism or autism spectrum disorders
Immune function in women with breast cancer
Anxiety and pain in patients following heart surgery
Quality of life and glucose levels in people with diabetes
Lung function in children with asthma.

Safety

Massage therapy appears to have few risks if it is used appropriately and provided by a trained massage professional. However, people with some conditions should use caution when considering massage therapy.
The National Cancer Institute urges massage therapists to take specific precautions with cancer patients and avoid massaging:
Open wounds, bruises, or areas with skin breakdown
Directly over the tumor site
Areas with a blood clot in a vein
Sensitive areas following radiation therapy.

Investigators and common sense also suggest that massage therapists avoid forceful and deep tissue massage in patients who have bleeding disorders or low blood platelet counts, are taking anticoagulant medications such as warfarin, or in any potentially weak area of the skin such as near wounds.
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