Tuesday 6th July, 2021
  Categories: General, Practitioners

The health benefits of massage

Take care of yourself
Massage can be used for a lot more than pain

Clinical trials have shown that regular massages have the following scientifically proven benefits:

  • reducing blood pressure
  • improving sleep
  • reducing anxiety and generally improving your psychological state
  • reducing fatigue, aches and pains

In this article we will discuss these findings and the types of massage that gave these benefits. More importantly we discuss self massage options that make this type of care practical and affordable for an average person.

CONTENTS

The benefits
Table: clinical trials
Summary of what worked
Your self massage alternatives
Professionals
References

The benefits

We managed to find 28 trials of massages used for health and wellness. Those results are compiled into an easy to read table below. In summary a variety of different massages were used demonstrating that massages can help the following.

  • Improving sleep
  • Reducing fatigue
  • Work related aches and pains
  • Reducing blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Reducing occupational stress
  • depression
  • nausea in cancer patients

Following the table we summarise what works. The regular massages used in most of the trials would be prohibitively expensive if a professional therapist was used, so we also discuss effective self massage options.

The health benefits of massage: summary of clinical trials

NOTE: You may need to scroll the table below left/right for more information

Trial

Type

Number/freq./length

Investigated

Results

1

Remedial back and shoulder massage

Each evening for 3 days

Sleep, fatigue, surgery recovery

Improved sleep, fatigue and surgery recovery

2

Slow back massage

10 minutes each evening for 3 days

Sleep

Improved sleep quality

3

Chair massage

30 minute, weekly for 10 weeks

Work related pain

Improved

4

Chair massage

10 minutes per day for 4 days

Work related stress

Reduces stress levels

5

Swedish massage

10 minutes, 3 times a week for 10 sessions

Blood pressure

Average blood pressure reduced from 128/76 to 116/18

6

Swedish massage

10-15 minutes, 3 times a week for 10 sessions

Blood pressure

Blood pressure reduced, still reduced 72 hours after the last massage

7

Swedish massage

10-15 minutes, 3 times a week for 10 weeks

Blood pressure

Blood pressure reduced, still reduces after 72 hours but returned to previous two weeks after

8

Chair massages

4 weekly 20 minutes

Blood pressure

Significantly reduced

9

Chair massages

15 minute weekly for 10 weeks

Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety reduced

10

Swedish

20-25 minutes twice weekly for 4 weeks

Occupational stress

Reduce occupational stress

11

Foot massage

10 minutes, 3 times a week for 4 weeks

Sleep

Improved sleep quality

12

Swedish

Eight 15 minute sessions

Occupational pain and stress

Reduced occupational pain and stress

13

Swedish

25 minutes, twice a week for 4 weeks

Occupational stress (intensive care nurses)

Reduced occupational stress, still apparent 2 weeks after the last massage

1414

Swedish

15 minutes, weekly for 5 weeks

Anxiety

Reduced anxiety levels

15

Chair massage

15 minute chair massage weekly for 6 weeks

Anxiety

Reduced anxiety levels

16

Chair massage

twice weekly for a month

Pain, disability, head and neck movement

Reduced pain and disability, increased head and neck movement

17

Back massage

15 minutes per day for a week

Anxiety, blood pressure, sleep

Improved anxiety, blood pressure and sleep

18

Whole body Swedish

One hour weekly for 4 weeks

Blood pressure and heart rate

Reduced blood pressure and heart rate

19

Back massage or foot massage

30 minutes, twice weekly for 3 weeks

Blood pressure, sleep

Both the back massages and feet massages reduced blood pressure and improved sleep

20

Chair massage

Eight 15 minute sessions

Work related pain

Reduced work related pain

21

Various

Various, up to 60 minutes

Study of 1290 cancer patients measuring a variety of symptoms

Improved: pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea and depression

22

Pressure points on legs

Daily for 4 weeks

Sleep

Improved sleeping

23

Swedish massage

30 minutes weekly for 3 weeks

Sleep

Improved sleep quality

24

Back massage

Daily for 3 days

Sleep

Improved sleep quality

25

Back massage

20 minutes daily for 5 days

Sleep

Improved sleep quality

26

Remedial back massage

20 minutes, 3 times a day for duration of hospital stay

Sleep

Improved sleep quality

27

Remedial massage

10 min

Sleep

Improved quality

28

Hand/forearm & foot/calf massage +/- aromatherapy

20 minute

Sleep

Improved sleep quality

Summary of what worked

Chair massage
Simple chair massages were one type of massage found to be effective

The type of massage that was successful

We had 28 different trials using a variety of different massage techniques, which would have been applied by an even larger number of massage therapists. Many were what would be considered normal remedial type massages where the therapist would have used some form of lubricant, and rubbed and kneaded the muscles. These include "remedial massage", "back massage" and "Swedish massage". Many used "chair massage" which is where the patient sits on a chair clothed. Only one used a version of pressure point techniques. Looking for some form of commonality, we conclude that for massages to have these benefits they need to be a massage that:

  • loosens tight muscles
  • stimulateds blood flow, and
  • works on tight spots in muscles

Where was massaged

Although most of the massages were performed on the back, neck and shoulders, when massage was done on the hands, forearms, feet and legs it was also successful.

Length and frequency of massages

Looking at our table of trial results we see that most massages ranged from 10-30 minutes. Frequencies ranged from three times a day through to weekly. If we look at the results of trial seven we see three massages a week lowered blood pressure. This pressure was still reduced after 72 hours, but not after two weeks. This tells us that the regular massages must be continually applied.

Reflexology on feet
27/28 of the trials managed to produce excellent health benefits without the use of special points

Special points to rub or press

We see lots of articles and videos giving special points to rub to reduce reduce blood pressure, reduce anxiety and give a host of other health benefits. Note that 27 out of the 28 trials produced excellent health benefits using normal regular massage. This is not to say that these special points have no merit, just that the scientists managed to produce excellent health benefits without them.

Your self massage alternatives

While many types of massage and protocols worked, probably the best model to follows was trial seven, which used 15 minute massage sessions three times a week. Blood pressure was still considerably reduced 72 hours after the last massage, but not after two weeks. The only problem is that three massages a week for ever would get very expensive, so lets look at some home massage options.

Self massage with hands
Self massage using hands

Massage using your hands

As discussed in our article on the benefits of self massage, using your own hands is effective. Keeping in mind that you can only reach certain parts of your body and the massage strokes need to be towards your heart (one way valves in blood vessels) the muscles that can be massaged this way are limited. It is presumed that the best effects would be obtained from massaging the larger muscles, so the use of hand massage to for health and wellness would be limited.

Massage cushion
Massage cushion

Chair and cushion massagers

These are able to massage larger areas of muscle plus are easy and convenient to use so would they would probably be very useful.

Self massage allows the benefits of quality massage at home for little cost

Vibration massagers (RECOMMENDED)

As we discuss in our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications vibrations delivered by an effective massager penetrate better than manual massage and have excellent benefits. Further, it's application does not require and special massage skill. Therefore, if you follow the correct simple procedure and use an effective machine it should provide excellent benefits.
To find out more about this therapy please see:
How to choose an effective massager
How to use a vibration massager
Video: Our highly effective vibration massager

Professionals

DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page.

References

  1. Nerbass FB, Feltrim MIZ, de Souza SA, Ykeda DS, Lorenzi-Filho G. Effects of massage therapy on sleep quality after coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Clinics. 2010;65(11):1105–10.
  2. shinde mahadeo, anjum shabana. Effectiveness of Slow Back Massage on Quality of Sleep among ICU Patents . Int J Sci Res. 2014;
  3. Engen DJ, Wahner-Roedler DL, Nadolny AM, Persinger CM, Oh JK, Spittell PC, et al. The effect of chair massage on muscular discomfort in cardiac sonographers: A pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010;
  4. Brennan MK, DeBate RD. The effect of chair massage on stress perception of hospital bedside nurses. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2006;
  5. Moeini M, Givi M, Ghasempour Z, Sadeghi M. The effect of massage therapy on blood pressure of women with pre-hypertension. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2011;
  6. Givi M. Durability of effect of massage therapy on blood pressure. Int J Prev Med. 2013;
  7. Givi M, Sadeghi M, Garakyaraghi M, Eshghinezhad A, Moeini M, Ghasempour Z. Long-term effect of massage therapy on blood pressure in prehypertensive women. J Educ Health Promot. 2018;
  8. Day AL, Gillan L, Francis L, Kelloway EK, Natarajan M. Massage therapy in the workplace: Reducing employee strain and blood pressure. G Ital Med Lav Ergon. 2009;
  9. Engen DJ, Wahner-Roedler DL, Vincent A, Chon TY, Cha SS, Luedtke CA, et al. Feasibility and effect of chair massage offered to nurses during work hours on stress-related symptoms: A pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2012;
  10. Mahdizadeh M, Jaberi AA, Bonabi TN. Massage therapy in management of occupational stress in emergency medical services staffs: A randomized controlled trial. Int J Ther Massage Bodyw Res Educ Pract. 2019;
  11. Malekshahi F, Aryamanesh F, Fallahi S. The effects of massage therapy on sleep quality of patients with end-stage renal disease undergoing hemodialysis. Sleep Hypn. 2018;20(2):91–5.
  12. Katz J. A randomized, controlled study of the pain- And tension-reducing effects of 15 min workplace massage treatments versus seated rest for nurses in a large teaching hospital. Pain Res Manag. 1999;4(2):81–8.
  13. Nazari F, Mirzamohamadi M, Yousefi H. The effect of massage therapy on occupational stress of Intensive Care Unit nurses. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2015;
  14. Bost N, Wallis M. The effectiveness of a 15 minute weekly massage in reducing physical and psychological stress in nurses. Aust J Adv Nurs. 2006;
  15. Shulman KR, Jones GE. The effectiveness of massage therapy intervention on reducing anxiety in the workplace. J Appl Behav Sci. 1996;
  16. Šiško PK, Videmšek M, Karpljuk D. The effect of a corporate chair massage program on musculoskeletal discomfort and joint range of motion in office workers. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;
  17. Pinar R, Afsar F. Back massage to decrease state anxiety, cortisol level, blood prsessure, heart rate and increase sleep quality in family caregivers of patients with cancer: A randomised controlled trial. Asian Pacific J Cancer Prev. 2016;
  18. Supa’At I, Zakaria Z, Maskon O, Aminuddin A, Nordin NAMM. Effects of swedish massage therapy on blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammatory markers in hypertensive women. Evidence-based Complement Altern Med. 2013;
  19. Arslan G, Ceyhan Ö, Mollaoğlu M. The influence of foot and back massage on blood pressure and sleep quality in females with essential hypertension: a randomized controlled study. J Hum Hypertens. 2020;
  20. Cabak A, Mikicin M, Łyp M, Stanisławska I, Kaczor R, Tomaszewski W. Preventive chair massage with algometry to maintain psychosomatic balance in white-collar workers. In: Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2017.
  21. Cassileth BR, Vickers AJ. Massage therapy for symptom control: Outcome study at a major cancer center. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2004;28(3):244–9.
  22. Dai XJ, Xing XY, Shi Y, Jiang WX, Zhou ME. Lower extremity point massage for improving quality of sleep in patients with end-stage renal disease: a clinical study of 42 cases . Vol. 48, Journal of traditional chinese medicine / chung i tsa chih ying wen pan. 2007. p. 44‐46.
  23. Sturgeon M, Wetta-Hall R, Hart T, Good M, Dakhil S. Effects of therapeutic massage on the quality of life among patients with breast cancer during treatment. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(4):373–80.
  24. Hsu W-L. Back massage intervention for improving health and sleep quality among intensive care unit patients. Nurs Crit Care. 2019;24(5):313–9.
  25. Ko YL. Randomised controlled trial of the effectiveness of using back massage to improve sleep quality among Taiwanese insomnia postp…. Midwifery. 2014;30(1):60–4.
  26. Sable A, Sivabalan T, Shetti AN. Effectiveness of back massage on sleep pattern among patients with congestive cardiac failure. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2017;22(5):359–62.
  27. H Khoshno, F Mohammadi, A Dalvandi MA. The Effect of Effleurage Massage Duration on Sleep Quality Improvement. Iran J Rehabil Res. 2106;2(4):10–8.
  28. Cheraghbeigi N, Modarresi M, Rezaei M, Khatony A. Comparing the effects of massage and aromatherapy massage with lavender oil on sleep quality of cardiac patients: A randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2019;35(March):253–8.

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Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more



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