Massage is believed to positively affect everything from circulation to the body’s metabolism. Swedish massage in particular has been shown to relieve muscle pain, reduce stress, and improve immune function. It can also enhance respiratory function, reduce edema (swelling) due to blocked lymphatic vessels, and aid in the healing of soft-tissue injuries.
Many of the stress-related benefits of massage have never been documented by scientific studies, but during the past 20 years an impressive body of research–mainly on Swedish massage–has nevertheless accumulated. Much of this work was conducted at the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute, and several studies have been funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Although more controlled trials are needed, the findings have included the following:
-Hospitalized patients who were massaged attributed greater mobility, increased energy, positive mood changes, and a faster rate of recovery to massage therapy.
-Chronic low back pain sufferers reported experiencing less pain, depression, and anxiety–as well as improved sleep–after receiving two 30-minute massage sessions a week for five weeks. Other studies have been contradictory, however; therefore, more research is needed in this area.
-Office workers who were massaged regularly were more alert, performed better, and were less stressed than those who weren’t massaged.
-Patients with fibromyalgia who received 30-minute massages twice a week for five weeks reported less pain, less stiffness, and less fatigue, as well as fewer nights of difficult sleeping. More studies are needed in this area.
-In burn patients, massage therapy decreased emotional effects (anxiety, tension, depression) and physical symptoms (pain and itching).
Massage has also been shown to have a profound effect on children as well as adults. Premature infants who were massaged, for example, gained weight and were released from the hospital sooner than those who were not massaged. Autistic children showed less erratic behavior after massage.
Other ailments that have responded to massage include chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine, and sciatica.
For information on the health benefits of other forms of massage, see the individual entries in the WholeHealthMD Reference Library.