What Is Massage Therapy?

Today, the term massage therapy is the manipulation of soft tissue – muscles, skin and/or tendons – by fingertips, hands, fists, elbows and even feet. Bodywork is a general term for manual techniques that involve touch and movement and are used to promote health and healing.

Massage is believed to be one of the oldest forms of medical care, dating back to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Its vital role in healthcare was universal. In 2700 BC, a Chinese book of internal medicine recommended “the massage of skin and flesh”. More than two thousand years later, Hippocrates – the father of modern medicine – wrote that “the physician must be acquainted with many things and assuredly with rubbing” (the ancient Greek word for massage).

Almost a quarter of all American adults have received at least one massage in the past twelve months. And the number continues to grow as more and more people discover the benefits of massage – for relaxation, rehabilitation and rejuvenation.

What To Expect When Receiving A Massage

Although no two massages are alike, there are some things that are universal. Sessions generally take place in a quiet, comfortable room. It may be dimly lit and soothing music is often played.

The practitioner will begin by asking questions, such as the reason you are seeking massage therapy, any injuries or medical conditions you may have, and any other information that may help them better serve you.

The massage therapist will then excuse himself/herself so you can disrobe to your level of comfort. You will then get on the table under the provided cover and relax, either face up or face down.

You will be draped at all times – only the area being worked on will be exposed. A typical full body session includes your back, arms, legs, feet, hands, head, neck and shoulders. Oil or lotion is often used.

When the massage is complete, the practitioner will leave the room so you can get dressed. Sit up slowly and, in the hours after your massage, drink plenty of water.

Medical Massage Conditions

Medical Massage Conditions

Massage therapy and treatment work can dramatically help or eliminate many different conditions (though it cannot help everything). Here is just a short list of some conditions that benefit from massage therapy, manual therapy, and/or treatment massage:

  • Bad Posture, Postural Distortions, & Functional Scoliosis
  • Aches & Pains
    • Neck Pain
    • Shoulder Pain
    • Arm, Wrist, and Hand Pain
    • Upper & Mid Back Pain
    • Low Back Pain
    • Hip Pain
    • Leg and Knee Pain
    • Foot Pain
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Hammer Toes, Claw Toes, Mallet Toes
  • Golfer’s Elbow, Tennis Elbow, Medial Epicondylitis, Lateral Epicondylitis
  • Trigger Finger and Dupuytren’s Contracture
  • Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Headaches, Migraine headaches, and Tension Headaches
  • Temporal Mandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD) (a.k.a. Jaw Soreness, TMJ)
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Frozen Shoulder
  • Whiplash
  • Sciatica & False Sciatica
  • Strains & Sprains
  • Tendonitis
  • Asthma
  • Constipation
  • Sleeping Disorders
  • Shin splints
  • Achilles Tendonitis

Massage and Specific Conditions

Clinical research has shown that massage therapy has benefits for many serious medical conditions. It alleviates pain and aids in the healing process.

Massage has been found to be especially effective for patients with these conditions:

  • Low back pain
  • Breast cancer
  • Other Kinds of Cancer
  • Heart bypass surgery
  • Anxiety
  • Migraines
  • Carpal Tunnel
  • Hypertension
  • Other Conditions

Low Back Pain
Chronic low back pain sufferers find enduring results from massage therapy, according to a study conducted by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Center for Health Studies. The researchers plan to determine the specific components of massage therapy that contribute to its effectiveness.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine supported the idea that massage therapy produces better results for low back pain than other therapies, including acupuncture and spinal modification.

Breast Cancer
Massage promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety in patients with varying kinds of cancer, and has proven especially effective breast cancer survivors. Research shows therapeutic massage is an effective complement to traditional medical care for women undergoing lumpectomy, mastectomy or breast reconstruction. Pre-surgery, massage relaxes muscle tissue and increases the flow of lymph. Post surgery, women who apply specialized lymph drainage techniques from a well-trained massage therapist to their treatment may experience less pain and swelling.

In a study performed by the University of Miami School of Medicine, breast cancer patients who were massaged three times a week reported lower levels of depression, anxiety and anger. Benefits of massage after breast cancer treatment also include boosting the immune system and helping women reconnect with their bodies.

Other Kinds of Cancer
Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center asked cancer patients about the severity of their symptoms before and after receiving massage therapy, and patients reported reduced levels of anxiety, pain, fatigue, depression and nausea.

Heart Bypass Surgery
In-patient massage treatment performed after heart bypass surgery helps reduce pain and muscle spasms, confirmed by a pilot study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Because of its effectiveness, 60 percent of the massage group in this study expressed a willingness to pay for massage therapy out-of-pocket.

A review of more than a dozen studies concluded that massage therapy helps relieve depression and anxiety by affecting the body’s biochemistry. Researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine reviewed studies that measured the stress hormone cortisol in participants before and immediately after massage and found that the therapy lowered levels by up to 53 percent. Massage also increased serotonin and dopamine, which are both neurotransmitters that help reduce depression.

In a 2006 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, massage therapy recipients exhibited fewer migraines and better sleep quality than the control group. A 1998 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy decreased the occurrence of headaches, sleep disturbances and distress symptoms in adults with migraines.

Carpal Tunnel
A 2004 study by the University of Miami School of Medicine explored the effects of massage therapy on carpel tunnel syndrome. The study concluded that carpal tunnel patients receiving massage experienced less pain, reduced symptoms and better grip strength than patients that did not receive massage.

Research has shown that hypertensive patients who received three 10-minute back massages a week had a reduction in blood pressure, compared to patients who tried to increase relaxation without massage.

Other Conditions
Research indicates that massage can help boost immune system strength by increasing the activity level of the body’s natural “killer T cells,” which fight off tumors and viruses.

Massage therapy benefits that are applicable to sufferers of any kind of pain include the stimulation of endorphin production in the brain and the encouragement of patient confidence in improving their condition.

Benefits Of Massage Therapy

Many people think of it as a luxury, but massage is much more than simple relaxation. The benefits of massage therapy continue to be studied, but research has shown it to be effective in:

  • Decreasing pain
  • Reducing anxiety and stress
  • Reducing neck, sciatica, pinch nerve
  • Reducing migraine, sinus, stress
  • Improving range of motion
  • Decreasing carpal tunnel symptoms
  • Reducing muscle soreness
  • Boosting immune system
  • Lessening depression


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  • Relieving back pain
  • Promoting tissue regeneration
  • Easing withdrawal symptoms
  • Treating cancer-related fatigue
  • Easing labor pain and stress
  • Relieving migraine pain
  • …and more