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Research on different forms of self-massage, including foam rolling , have found that giving yourself a good kneading can reduce muscle soreness and improve pain symptoms, even among people with osteoarthritis. In fact, pain reduction—along with depression relief—is one of the benefits that research has most consistently linked to massage, says Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. Some of her work has shown that massage may improve immune system function in people with breast cancer and leukemia , along with reducing their physical and emotional pain.

Asked how massage could provide so many health perks, Field says several fMRI studies have shown that massage increases blood flow in areas of the brain associated with mood and stress regulation. Increased activity in the vagus nerve could have—among other benefits—a meditation-like calming effect, which would explain the drop in cortisol and other stress-related symptoms. When you bump your elbow or knee and experience pain, your first instinct is to rub the pain site, Field says.

But all of this is controversial. Massage therapy is used to help manage a health condition or enhance wellness. It involves manipulating the soft tissues of the body. The most common form of massage therapy in Western countries is called Swedish or classical massage; it is the core of most massage training programs. Massage therapy has been studied for several types of pain, including low-back pain, neck and shoulder pain, pain from osteoarthritis of the knee, and headaches.

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Only a small number of studies of massage for headache have been completed. The risk of harmful effects from massage therapy appears to be low. However, there have been rare reports of serious side effects, such as a blood clot, nerve injury, or bone fracture.

In states that regulate massage therapy 45 states and the District of Columbia , therapists must get a license or certification before practicing massage. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners. The site includes questions and answers about clinical trials, guidance on how to find clinical trials through ClinicalTrials. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews is a collection of evidence-based reviews produced by the Cochrane Library, an international nonprofit organization.

The reviews summarize the results of clinical trials on health care interventions. Skip to main content.


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Site Menu Home. Safety Information Know the Science. Research Results Selected Results by Date. Events Multimedia Video, Images, and Audio. Advisory Council Job Opportunities. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in a evaluation of nondrug therapies for low-back pain, examined 20 studies that compared massage to usual care or other interventions and found that there was evidence that massage was helpful for chronic low-back pain but the strength of the evidence was low.

A review of 25 studies with a total of 3, participants found that in both acute and chronic low-back pain, there were short-term improvements in pain after massage therapy. Of 6 studies that evaluated massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee total participants , 5 found that it provided short-term pain relief. A study with 64 participants evaluated 2 types of massage lymphatic drainage and traditional massage , once a week for 8 weeks, in patients with migraine. In a study, 56 people with tension headaches were assigned to receive massage at myofascial trigger points or an inactive treatment detuned ultrasound twice a week for 6 weeks or to be on a waiting list.

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A study evaluated the effect of adding hand massage to multimodal behavior treatment of migraine in 83 people. Ask about the training, experience, and credentials of the massage therapist you are considering. Toll-free in the U. TTY for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers :. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews is a collection of evidence-based reviews produced by the Cochrane Library, an international nonprofit organization.

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Noninvasive Treatments for Low Back Pain. Massage for promoting mental and physical health in typically developing infants under the age of six months. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Effectiveness of massage therapy as co-adjuvant treatment to exercise in osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation. Massage for low-back pain. Accessed at www.


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The efficacy of lymphatic drainage and traditional massage in the prophylaxis of migraine: a randomized, controlled parallel group study. Neurological Sciences. Cochrane Database of Systematic Review s. Niemi A-K. Review of randomized controlled trials of massage in preterm infants.

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Noninvasive treatments for acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine. Massage with or without aromatherapy for symptom relief in people with cancer. Adverse events of massage therapy in pain-related conditions: a systematic review.

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Complementary and alternative medicine for cancer pain: an overview of systematic reviews. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Occupational Outlook Handbook. Massage Therapists. Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site.