Although scientific research on massage therapy—whether it works and, if so, how—is limited, there is evidence that massage may benefit some patients. Conclusions generally cannot yet be drawn about its effectiveness for specific health conditions.
According to one analysis, however, research supports the general conclusion that massage therapy is effective. The studies included in the analysis suggest that a single session of massage therapy can reduce “state anxiety” (a reaction to a particular situation), blood pressure, and heart rate, and multiple sessions can reduce “trait anxiety” (general anxiety-proneness), depression, and pain.
In addition, recent studies suggest that massage may benefit certain conditions, for example:
A 2008 review of 13 clinical trials found evidence that massage might be useful for chronic low-back pain. Clinical practice guidelines issued in 2007 by the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians recommend that physicians consider using certain CAM therapies, including massage (as well as , chiropractic, progressive relaxation, and yoga), when patients with chronic low-back pain do not respond to conventional treatment.
A multisite study of more than 300 hospice patients with advanced cancer concluded that massage may help to relieve pain and improve mood for these patients.
A study of 64 patients with chronic neck pain found that therapeutic massage was more beneficial than a self-care book, in terms of improving function and relieving symptoms.
A combination of massage techniques for 52 subjects with traumatically induced spinal pain led to significant improvements in acute and chronic pain and increased muscle flexibility and tone. This study also found massage therapy to be extremely cost effective, with cost savings ranging from 15-50%. Massage has also been shown to stimulate the body’s ability to naturally control pain by stimulating the brain to produce endorphins. Fibromyalgia is an example of a condition that may be favorably affected by this effect.