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Scheduling a massage could feel like a splurge. But it turns out there are multiple health benefits that could make a regular message a good investment for your well-being. A licensed massage therapist completes a therapeutic massage to help relieve pain and stress and promote relaxation. Keep reading for 10 science-backed health benefits of massage therapy.
Types of massage
There are many different types of massage available to try. Depending on the benefits you’re looking for, some types may be more appropriate than others. Swedish massage is the most commonly used type of massage therapy. Most types of massage use kneading motions to help massage connective tissue, soft tissue, and muscles.
Deep tissue, Swedish, and trigger point massage may be best for reducing muscle soreness, range of motion, and pain.
Thai massage combines exercises with massage techniques to increase your range of motion and reduce soreness. Aromatherapy massage adds essential oils to massage techniques to help boost the mental health benefits of massage.
With so many options for massage, it can be difficult to choose. You can always try multiple types of massage to see what option is best for you. Talking with a massage therapist can help answer your questions about the types of massages, making it easier to pick the type to try.
Here is a list of some common types of massage therapy:
- Swedish massage
- Deep tissue massage
- Trigger point massage
- Aromatherapy massage
- Prenatal massage
- Thai massage
- Shiatsu massage
- Sports massage
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10 science-backed benefits of massage
If you’ve been on the fence about trying massage, these 10 benefits might convince you. Just be sure to look for a reputable massage therapist with good reviews to boost your chances of experiencing some of these benefits.
1. Relieves stress
Chronically high stress levels can take a toll on the body by increasing inflammation and risk for chronic diseases. Research suggests that massage therapy helps reduce stress levels, lowers blood pressure, and boosts mental health (Nazari, 2015).
Massage therapy also helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, helping people feel more relaxed and decreasing the nervous system response to stress (Field, 2016).
2. Reduces tension headaches
Tension headaches are one of the most common causes of headaches. The symptoms can range from mild to severe pain. A 2015 study found that Thai massage helped reduce pain and heart rate changes associated with tension headaches. Massage therapy also helped soften tense muscle tissue and enhanced the function of the nervous system (Damapong, 2015).
3. Eases muscle tension and soreness
Joint pain and injuries are commonly caused by muscle tension and flexibility issues. Massage therapy can help improve blood flow, relax muscles, and reduce muscle soreness. These benefits may help increase range of motion, reduce pain, and prevent future injuries (Field, 2016).
4. Improves sleep quality
Do you spend a lot of time tossing and turning at night? Muscle pain and soreness can interfere with the quality of your sleep. Research shows that massage helps adults and children sleep better by reducing irritability and muscle pain (Field, 2016).
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5. Increases range of motion
How far you can comfortably move your muscles is important for your health. A restricted range of motion increases your risk for injuries, falls, back pain, and muscle pain. Research shows that massage therapy helps increase flexibility and range of motion in muscles and joints (Field, 2016).
6. Reduces back pain
Upper back and low back pain are a couple of the most common musculoskeletal complaints experienced by adults. Most people will experience back pain at some point in their lives, and many people have chronic back pain.
Back pain could be caused by many factors, including loss of range of motion, muscle tension, or nerve pressure. Massage therapy can help with chronic pain management and decrease disability caused by back pain (Field, 2016).
7. Reduces anxiety and depression
Stress, back pain, and sleep quality all impact mental health, and anxiety and depression symptoms are common. Multiple research studies show that massage therapy helps to support mental health and decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression (Field, 2016).
Massage and touch therapies help to reduce cortisol and increase several neurotransmitters, like endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which can help you feel better.
8. Reduces sports injuries
Sports injuries are common, especially with sports that use the same movement repeatedly. Tennis elbow, runner’s knee, shin splints, shoulder injuries, and Achilles tendonitis are all examples of common sports injuries.
Research suggests massage therapy helps reduce soreness and improve range of motion, which could help both treat and prevent sports injuries (Davis, 2020).
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9. Boosts the immune system
Regular massage therapy may help to improve your immune system. Research shows massage and touch therapy may stimulate the production of immune cells in healthy adults (Rapaport, 2012).
Other research shows massage can help increase the immune function in preterm infants and people with compromised immune systems, like those with HIV or undergoing cancer treatment (Field, 2016).
One study found people with breast cancer had reduced inflammation and better immune function after receiving regular massage therapy (Field, 2016).
10. Increases focus
Having trouble focusing? Massage therapy may be able to help. The cumulative benefits of sleeping better, less stress, and less muscle pain can remove some common problems that interfere with attention. So, the combined benefits of massage can help make it easier to focus throughout the day. Research shows massage is a beneficial way to help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) concentrate better (Chen, 2019).
What to expect from massage therapy
Massage sessions are typically done while lying down. You can dress to your comfort level, meaning you can wear clothing or just your underwear. A sheet will cover you during the massage, except for the areas the massage therapist is working on.
Check with your massage therapist to make sure their credentials are up-to-date to ensure your safety. You can use an online database to find a licensed massage therapist or get a referral from your family, friends, or healthcare provider.
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Depending on your concerns, you may want more or less frequent massages. Once a week or monthly massages could be recommended. More frequent massages may help work knots and tightness out of your muscles. Ask your massage therapists for recommendations if you’re unsure how often to get a massage. They may recommend weekly massage sessions in the beginning to help work out tight tissue and loosen up muscles. You may be able to work toward monthly massages to maintain progress, although the frequency is entirely up to your preference.
- Chen, S. C., Yu, B. Y., Suen, L. K., Yu, J., Ho, F. Y., Yang, J. J., et al. (2019). Massage therapy for the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies In Medicine, 42, 389–399. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.011. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30670272/
- Damapong, P., Kanchanakhan, N., Eungpinichpong, W., Putthapitak, P., & Damapong, P. (2015). A randomized controlled trial on the effectiveness of court-type traditional thai massage versus amitriptyline in patients with chronic tension-type headache. Evidence-Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 2015, 930175. doi: 10.1155/2015/930175. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4587431/
- Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. (2020). Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 6(1), e000614. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000614. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7228568/
- Field, T. (2016). Massage therapy research review. Complementary Therapies In Clinical Practice, 24, 19–31. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2016.04.005. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5564319/
- Nazari, F., Mirzamohamadi, M., & Yousefi, H. (2015). The effect of massage therapy on occupational stress of intensive care unit nurses. Iranian Journal Of Nursing And Midwifery Research, 20(4), 508–515. doi: 10.4103/1735-9066.161001. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4525352/
- Rapaport, M. H., Schettler, P., & Bresee, C. (2012). A preliminary study of the effects of repeated massage on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and immune function in healthy individuals: a study of mechanisms of action and dosage. Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine, 18(8), 789–797. doi: 10.1089/acm.2011.0071. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3419840/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.