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The Science Behind Massages

Getting a massage is a simple, conventional form of reducing pain due to various factors. That said, the science community has done some work concerning massages, focusing primarily on their effectiveness, safety, and side effects. The results? Well, most research work done to date is promising. It is ‘promising' in the aspects of temporary relief from any discomfort or pain to the individual being treated. There are no long-term benefits associated with massage therapy. Meaning, you must keep getting a massage to keep benefiting from them. Now the question comes—how effective are massages?

Effectiveness of Massages

By now one thing is clear—the effect of massages is temporary. Though a temporary solution, you should not play down the significance of these ‘effects.' Remember you get the results (in the form of relief) albeit for a short time. So, how effective are massages in dealing with some common ailments? Researchers have dedicated their work to various health conditions. But a few among them were subjected to extensive research which the following are.


Getting a massage can help with things like chronic low-back pain, neck pain, labor pain, and osteoarthritis pain.

  • A person suffering from chronic low-back pain can benefit from massage as per the conclusions of a 2006 research review and an NCCIH-funded clinical trial conducted in 2011.
  • Besides, massage can aid people having chronic neck pain according to a 2009 NCCIH-funded clinical trial report.
  • Women in labor can get some relief with a massage which also supposedly increased their satisfaction over other forms of pain relief. However, the results aren’t conclusive and can vary among individual preferences.
  • Pain caused due to osteoarthritis of the knee may be helped with some massage as concluded by a 2012 NCCIH-funded study.


Some research and studies suggested massage for cancer patients to reduce pain, promote relaxation, and help in elevating mood. Massage therapists need to be cautious with cancer patients and avoid massaging the following:

  • Site over the tumor growth
  • Areas with a blood clot in veins
  • Open wounds and bruises, or areas with skin breakdowns
  • Sensitive areas following radiation therapy

Mental Health

Studies have also suggested that massage might help with depression and relaxation of the mind.

  • Massage therapy may aid in reducing depression according to a 2010 meta-analysis of 17 clinical trials.
  • A 2010 review concluded that massage might help older people to relax better.
  • In 2010, an NCCIH-supported clinical trial reported that for generalized anxiety disorder, the effects of massage therapy were no better than that of providing a relaxing environment along with deep breathing lessons to reduce the symptoms.
  • Another 2012 NCCIH-funded clinical trial made claims that a 12-week massage session paired with brief yoga sessions twice a week showed a decrease in depression, anxiety, and back and leg pain in pregnant women.


According to a 2010 review, massage therapy could help with a temporary reduction in pain, fatigue, and other symptoms that are related to fibromyalgia.


There's not much to learn from the clinical trials concerning headaches; however, the results look favorable.


For people with HIV or AIDS, massage therapy might help with improving the quality of life as per a 2010 review of four small clinical trials conclusion.

Infant Care A 2010 review claims about massage promotes weight gain in preterm infants. However, a 2013 review brushed away these claims saying there’s no sufficient evidence in those regards.

Safety and Side Effects of Massages

Massage therapy provides the most benefit when performed by a trained practitioner. That said, precautions need to be taken by practitioners, especially when tending people with certain health conditions:

  • Massage therapy might be not beneficial for every pregnant woman. You have to consult with your doctor before you undergo any massage therapy.
  • Also, people with bleeding disorders or low blood platelet counts should avoid getting forceful and deep tissue massages. The same applies for people taking any anticoagulants (also known as blood thinners). In addition, weak areas of the skin such as wounds and cuts should be prevented from any massage.
  • Cancer patients should not get a deep or intense massage over sensitive areas such as above the tumor unless permitted by the patient's health care provider.

So, there's the science's verdict on massages. What we have learned is, a massage can help with reduction in pain, providing relief and relaxation for many individuals but the results can vary depending on the individual.  

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