Evidence-Based Benefits of Massage

A growing body of research is revealing some substantial benefits of receiving massage. Some of this information replaces outdated understandings and clarifies accepted wisdom, while also highlighting the fact that there’s still a lot we don’t know.

My most recent copy of Massage & Bodywork magazine (July/August 2019), a publication for massage therapists, included an article summarizing some of these evidence-based benefits of massage (“The Benefits of Massage”). The author, Ruth Werner, came to Knoxville last year and I had the privilege of taking her class on the current state of massage research. It takes a lot of energy and focus for me to sit down and read research papers so I was grateful for her overview of the information. I thought you might be interested as well so I’ve condensed it a bit below. Ruth also wrote a companion article for the Body Sense magazine, a publication for those who receive massage, and you can read that here.

The article mentioned a study comparing “traditional Swedish massage and Thai Massage found that Swedish massage produced stronger relaxation responses and improved sleep, while Thai Massage led to a sense of energy and revitalization.” I’m curious to know your experience. While I don’t offer traditional Swedish massage, I would love to hear if there are any differences in the way you feel after receiving a table massage from me versus a Thai Massage.

Massage Myths (or, less dramatically, Outdated Understandings) and Clarifications:

  • Massage ‘flushes toxins’ from our muscles.

    • The research does not support this. For the most part, the liver is pretty good at handling toxins in the body.

  • You must drink as much water as you can stand after receiving a massage.

    • It’s a good idea to hydrate as needed so drink water when you feel thirsty, but it’s not critical to drink a lot right after a massage. Avoiding caffeine may help your post-massage ‘zen’ last longer.

  • Massage is dangerous for cancer patients.

    • The research shows that skilled massage can offer many benefits for folks with cancer (more on that later).

  • Massage boosts circulation.

    • This one is complicated and not strongly supported by research. If you want an in-depth article on the subject, I recommend this one.

Massage Benefits For Healthy People:

  • Wellness, relaxation, stress relief, revitalization, and improved immune system function

Massage Benefits for Athletes:

  • Post-event massage appears better than pre-event

  • Improved strength in muscles damaged by overuse

  • Faster recovery, maybe

Massage Benefits for People with Injuries:

  • Muscle and tendon recovery

  • Research recommends the use of massage to treat plantar fasciitis and carpal tunnel syndrome

Massage Benefits for People with Cancer:

  • Better sleep, less fatigue

  • Less stress, anxiety, and depression

  • Less nausea and constipation

  • Better immune system function

  • Improved quality of life

*The UT Cancer Institute has an Integrative Healthcare Program that offers massage therapy to cancer patients.

Massage Benefits for People with Acute and Chronic Pain

  • Safe and effective for pain management and restoring function with a low risk of adverse side effects. Research supports massage for back and neck pain as well as fibromyalgia. These findings are heartening, especially within the context of the opioid epidemic.

What benefits have you experienced from massage therapy? Have you received massage that felt unhelpful for your goals? As I mentioned before, I’m espeically interested to hear if you feel any different benefits from table massage versus Thai Massage. Weigh in and let me know!