About the Research Databases
Our team of doctor consultants selected four of the most respected Evidence-Based Medicine databases, that are also particularly useful for spa/wellness research: Natural Standard, The Cochrane Library, PubMed and the TRIP Database.
We’ve made researching a particular therapy simple: the evidence for Massage has been pre-searched for you at each database.
Evidence-based Medicine relies on a Research Hierarchy, because not all evidence is created equal. Learn more about how the medical experts classify this research.
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Focused exclusively on complementary/alternative therapies
Systematic reviews of the highest-quality evidence from global clinical trials
Service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine
Searches thousands of databases/medical publications worldwide
An international research collaboration that systematically reviews (and limits its focus to) scientific evidence on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Founded in 2000, Natural Standard assigns a grade to each CAM therapy, reflecting the level of available scientific data for or against the use of each therapy for a specific medical condition.
Natural Standard is subscription-based, and each of the database’s monographs aggregates data from other resources like AMED, CANCERLIT, CINAHL, CISCOM, the Cochrane Library, EMBASE, HerbMed, International Pharmaceutical Abstracts, Medline and NAPRALERT – and 20 additional journals. Data analysis is performed by healthcare professionals conducting clinical work and/or research at academic centers, using standardized instruments pertaining to each monograph section
Various forms of therapeutic superficial tissue manipulation have been practiced for thousands of years across cultures. Chinese use of massage dates to 1600 BC, and Hippocrates made reference to the importance of physicians being experienced with "rubbing" as early as 400 BC. There are references to massage in ancient records of the Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Egyptian, Indian, Greek, and Roman nations. References to massage are also found in the Bible and the Vedas. Terms for massage include the French word masser, the Greek word for "knead," a Hindu word for "press," and an Aramaic word that means "to press softly." The technique that is currently called Swedish massage was developed in the 19th Century by Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) as a combined form of massage and gymnastic exercises.
Many different therapeutic techniques can be classified as massage therapy. Most involve the application of fixed or moving pressure or manipulation of the muscles/connective tissues of clients. Practitioners may use their hands or other areas such as forearms, elbows, or feet. Lubricants may be added to aid the smoothness of massage strokes.
Techniques used in Swedish massage include (1) superficial stroking in a direction away from the heart or deep stroking towards the heart; (2) kneading in a circular pattern using fingers and thumbs; (3) deep muscle stimulation; (4) rhythmic movements such as slapping or tapping; and (5) vibration.
Sports massage is similar to Swedish massage but is adapted specifically for athletes. Classical massage aims to provide calmness, relaxation, encourage self-healing, and revitalization. Many other variations and styles of massage or touch exist, often developed in specific geographic regions.
Scientific research of massage is limited, and existing studies use a variety of techniques and trial designs. Firm evidence-based conclusions about the effectiveness of massage cannot be drawn at this time for any health condition.
|The grades A-F ascribed to the specific health conditions below have a very specific meaning. i.e., a "C" can still mean evidence of benefit from a small randomized trial, etc. Read about what each grade actually means.||Grade|
|Well-being in cancer patients Various forms of massage are often used in patients with cancer with the aim to improve well-being and reduce anxiety. Additional scientific evidence is needed to draw a firm conclusion in this area.||B|
|Aggressive behavior Massage may help reduce aggressive behavior in adolescents, but there is currently not enough evidence on which to base a strong recommendation. More studies are needed to evaluate this use of massage.||C|
|Alcohol dependence Massage shows promise as an adjunct to traditional medical detoxification for alcohol. Further research is needed to confirm these results.||C|
|Anxiety Several human trials have assessed the effects of massage in patients with anxiety, including those with cancer or chronic illnesses, hospitalized for psychiatric disorders, pre-operative anxiety- anxious about themselves or for their children having surgery, dementia, multiple sclerosis, before/during medical procedures, depressed adolescent mothers, women with premenstrual syndrome, patients with fibromyalgia, and in elderly institutionalized patients. Additional research is necessary in order to form a scientifically based recommendation. Preliminary research suggests that aromatherapy used with massage may help to calm people with dementia who are agitated. However, it is not clear if this approach is any better than aromatherapy used alone.||C|
|Arthritis (rheumatoid, osteoarthritis) Massage may benefit children with rheumatoid arthritis, but there is currently not enough scientific data on which to base a strong recommendation for this use of massage.||C|
|Asthma Promising initial evidence suggests that massage therapy may be beneficial to the lung function of children with asthma. Additional research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.||C|
|Atopic dermatitis Massage administered by the parent may help children with atopic dermatitis. More studies are needed before recommendations for or against massage can be made in this condition.||C|
|Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Preliminary research suggests massage therapy may improve mood and behavior in children with ADHD. Additional evidence is needed before a recommendation can be made.||C|
|Autism Massage may help improve sleep patterns, induce relaxation, and improve behavior patterns in autism. However, there is currently not enough data on which to base concrete recommendations in this condition.||C|
|Back pain Several human trials report temporary improvements in low back pain with various massage methods. A recent study showed slightly more efficacy for traditional therapy; however, the additional benefits of massage may add to its value for holistic nursing practice. Additional research is necessary in order to form a scientifically based recommendation.||C|
|Bone marrow transplantation Limited evidence suggests possible modest benefits for psychological well-being from massage in bone marrow transplantation. More studies are needed.||C|
|Burn and wound care There is some evidence from one small study suggesting massage may reduce stress in burn patients.||C|
|Cerebral palsy (spastic diplegia in adolescents) Early evidence suggests a possible benefit of calf massage for children with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. However, more study is needed.||C|
|Chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting Massage has been used to treat nausea, anxiety, and depression in patients with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Massage may help nausea, but effects on anxiety and depression in these patients is unclear.||C|
|Chronic pain Based on preliminary evidence, massage alone, or in combination with mindfulness-based stress reduction, may benefit patients with chronic pain. More research is needed to confirm these results.||C|
|Constipation A small number of human trials report that abdominal massage may be helpful in patients with constipation. Overall, these studies are not well designed or reported. Better quality research is necessary before a definitive conclusion can be reached.||C|
|Critical illness (intensive care unit patients) Limited evidence suggests that simple massage techniques in the critical care unit may help reduce indices of stress and improve mood. More studies are needed.||C|
|Cystic fibrosis Early evidence suggests that parent-administered massage may benefit mood and air flow in children with cystic fibrosis.||C|
|Dementia Massage with or without essential oils has been used in patients with dementia in chronic care facilities to assess effects on behavior. There is compelling early evidence that aromatherapy with essential oils may reduce agitation in patients with dementia, although the effects of massage itself are not clear.||C|
|Depression There is insufficient evidence to determine if massage is beneficial in patients with major depressive disorder, situational mood disorders, critical illness, pregnancy, or postnatal depression (including infant massage).||C|
|Diabetes There is early evidence suggesting that parental massage of children with diabetes may benefit blood sugar levels and symptom levels. There is also some evidence suggesting that self-massage of injection sites may increase insulin absorption.||C|
|Diagnostic procedure Massage may play a role in enhancing the sensitivity and diagnostic ability of lymphatic mapping in breast cancer patients.||C|
|Dyslexia Sunflower therapy, which includes applied kinesiology, physical manipulation, massage, homeopathy, herbal remedies, and neuro-linguistic programming, has been studied for childhood dyslexia. Although initial research appears promising, additional studies are needed to make a firm recommendation.||C|
|Exercise recovery Several studies of weak design have suggested that massage may benefit post-exercise muscle soreness. However, the data are insufficient to form definitive conclusions.||C|
|Fibromyalgia A small number of studies report that massage may improve pain, depression, and quality of life in fibromyalgia patients. Additional research is necessary in order to form a scientifically based recommendation.||C|
|Hand grip strength There is insufficient evidence to determine if massage is beneficial in for improving hand grip strength. Early study results conflict.||C|
|High blood pressure Based on early study, massage may decrease blood pressure in hypertensive patients. More high-quality studies are needed.||C|
|HIV/AIDS Evidence is limited and mixed as to whether massage may be of benefit to immune functioning or health services utilization in people with HIV.||C|
|Hypoxia (lack of oxygen) Limited study suggests a potential benefit for massage to help children recover from impairment of the central nervous system due to lack of oxygen. More study is needed.||C|
|Iliotibial band friction syndrome There is insufficient evidence to determine if massage is beneficial in patients with iliotibial band friction syndrome.||C|
|Immune function Preliminary evidence suggests massage therapy may preserve immune function. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.||C|
|Infant development / neonatal care Massage has been used in pre-term infants by therapists or mothers with a goal to improve infant development and weight gain. It is not clear from existing studies if this is a beneficial therapy.||C|
|Migraine There is currently not enough scientific evidence available on whether massage is an effective therapy for migraine.||C|
|Multiple sclerosis Initial research reports that massage may improve anxiety, depression, self-esteem, body image, and social functioning in patients with multiple sclerosis. Benefits on the disease process itself have not been well evaluated. Additional research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.||C|
|Musculoskeletal conditions Preliminary research reports that massage may help relieve chronic pain. Soft tissue massage may also improve range of motion and function. Further well-designed study is needed to confirm these results.||C|
|Myofascial pain Early evidence suggests that massage may reduce the number and intensity of painful trigger points. More studies are needed.||C|
|Neck/shoulder pain Massage limited to local areas of the body rather than full body massage may be beneficial in neck or shoulder pain. It remains unclear whether massage itself is effective, and if so, if it is more effective than acupuncture.||C|
|Parkinson's disease Early scientific evidence suggests that people with Parkinson's disease might have reduced symptoms after massage. More studies are needed.||C|
|Postoperative recovery Various massage approaches have been used after surgery with the aim to improve recovery and decrease pain. Further study is needed in this area before a recommendation can be made.||C|
|Pregnancy and labor Various massage approaches have been used during pregnancy and labor and are more commonly used in Europe than in the United States. Reduction of pain or anxiety is a common goal. It is not clear how birth outcomes are affected or if this is a safe intervention. Women who are pregnant should consult with their obstetrician before beginning massage therapy.||C|
|Premenstrual syndrome Initial research of the effects of massage on mood in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is inconclusive. A recent study investigating abdominal meridian massage (Kyongrak) found positive effects for menstrual cramps and dysmenorrhea. Further study is needed before a recommendation can be made.||C|
|Preparation for surgery A small number of studies have attempted to evaluate the contribution of massage in preparation for invasive surgical procedures. However, results are mixed.||C|
|Quality of life (nursing home residents) Hand massage did not appear to alter comfort levels or satisfaction with care in nursing home residents in one study. Larger, well-designed studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.||C|
|Rehabilitation Early research suggests that massage as a means of general rehabilitation for the bedridden elderly or elderly living in long-term care facilities has not been demonstrated to have significant benefits. More studies are needed before a firm recommendation can be made.||C|
|Rheumatic pain Massage may be generally beneficial in rheumatic pain conditions. However, evidence is insufficient to make a strong recommendation.||C|
|Scar healing (hypertrophic, pediatric) It is unclear whether massage can reduce the severity of hypertrophic scarring in children. More studies are needed before this use of massage can be evaluated.||C|
|Spinal cord injury Early evidence suggests that massage may benefit patients with spinal cord injury. In these patients, abdominal massage may also have positive effects on bowel dysfunction. However, evidence is insufficient on which to base recommendations.||C|
|Stress A 15-minute weekly massage has been studied for the reduction of physical and psychological stress in nurses. Massage was not beneficial for physical stress, but was found beneficial in reducing psychological stress levels. Further study is warranted.||C|
Numerous theories exist on how massage therapy may be beneficial, although there is limited research on the mechanism of action. It has been suggested that massage may have local effects on muscles and soft tissues and may reduce inflammation, stimulate oxygenation of tissues, soften or stretch scar tissue, break up adhesions, reduce buildup of lactic acid in muscles, induce muscle fiber relaxation, and stimulate healing of connective tissues or damaged muscles.
Swedish massage practitioners suggest that this approach can assist the body in delivering nutrients and removing waste products from various tissues. Therapy is said to transform nervous energy into a more steady state. Rhythm is regarded as important to establishing balance and the nervous system is thought to benefit from repetition and tempo. Rhythms are felt to have a meditative quality that is refreshing both to the therapist and client.
Environment is often regarded as being integral to massage therapy and often consists of a comfortable, warm, quiet location, although sports massage may be administered in a gym or locker room setting. Most approaches involve the client lying face down on a platform or table with a sheet covering the lower body. Depending on the technique, sessions may last from 15 to 90 minutes.
Training requirements for massage therapy in the United States varies. Many practitioners are not licensed, and national or international organizations have not reached consensus on standards. The International Therapy Examinations Council (ITEC) offers examinations testing the theoretical knowledge and practical ability (where applicable) of each and every candidate to ensure that their skills are of a sufficiently high standard to achieve an International Professional Qualification. It is recommended that patients seeking a massage therapist for medical reasons discuss the choice of massage practitioner with their primary healthcare professional. References and training history should be checked before starting a therapeutic program.
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Alertness, Alzheimer's disease, athletic performance, balance and posture, body fat reducer (cellulite), breathing enhancement, bronchitis, bulimia, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, circulation improvement, colitis, coronary heart disease, Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetic neuropathy, diarrhea, digestion enhancement, diverticulitis, endorphin release stimulation, epilepsy, fatigue, gastritis, gastrointestinal disorders (colon motility), headache (tension-type), heart rate reduction, hormonal imbalances, increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity, inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease, insomnia, intensive care unit stress, irritable bowel syndrome, joint disorders, leukemia, levator ani syndrome (coccygodynia), lumbar disc herniation, lymph flow enhancement, malnutrition (emaciation in children), mastectomy adjunct, maternal-infant bonding, menorrhagia, menstrual cramps, muscle and joint disorders (muscle damage), muscle relaxation, muscle spasm, muscle wasting/weakness, nausea, pain, perineal trauma, peripheral neuropathy, plantar fasciitis, postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding), pressure ulcers, prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome, pruritus (itching), repetitive strain injury, restless leg syndrome, seizure disorder, self esteem, self-image improvement, sexual problems, sinusitis, skin care, sleep disorders, smoking cessation, sports injuries, sprains, strains, stroke, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), tendonitis, ulcerative colitis, vision (myopia), weight loss.
Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
Few adverse effects of massage have been reported. Fractures, discomfort, bruising, swelling of massaged tissues, and a case of liver hematoma (internal bruising) have been reported. Vigorous massage should be avoided in patients with bleeding disorders, low platelet counts, or on blood-thinning medications (such as heparin or warfarin/Coumadin®). Based on preliminary study, blood pressure may increase in healthy patients following vigorous massage (e.g. trigger point therapy); however, in patients with hypertension, massage may actually lower blood pressure. Areas should not be massaged where there are fractures, weakened bones from osteoporosis or cancer, open/healing skin wounds, skin infections, recent surgery, or blood clots. Massage and other touch-based therapies should be used cautiously in patients with a history of physical abuse. Women who are pregnant should consult with their obstetrician before beginning massage therapy. Allergies or skin irritation can occur with some essential oils used in massage.
Massage has not been evaluated as a method to diagnose medical conditions. Massage should not be used as a substitute for more proven therapies for medical conditions. Massage should not cause pain to the client.
This information is based on a professional level monograph edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com): William Collinge, PhD, MPH (Collinge & Associates); Dawn Costa, BA, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Paul Ingraham, RMT (private practice); David Lee, PharmD (Massachusetts College of Pharmacy); Katie Nummy, BS (Northeastern University); Michael Rotblatt, MD (UCLA Medical Center); Nancy Russell, MD (MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas); Shaina Tanguay-Colucci, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Wendy Weissner, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration).
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. Selected references are listed below.
- Aourell M, Skoog M, Carleson J. Effects of Swedish massage on blood pressure. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2005 Nov;11(4):242-6.
- Billhult A, Bergbom I, Stener-Victorin E. Massage relieves nausea in women with breast cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy. J Altern Complement Med 2007 Jan-Feb;13(1):53-7.
- 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 Jun-Aug;23(4):28-33.
- Diego MA, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, et al. Spinal cord patients benefit from massage therapy. Int J Neurosci 2002;112(2):133-142.
- Fernandez-de-Las-Penas C, Alonso-Blanco C, Cuadrado ML, et al. Are manual therapies effective in reducing pain from tension-type headache?: a systematic review. Clin J Pain 2006 Mar-Apr;22(3):278-85.
- Hattan J, King L, Griffiths P. The impact of foot massage and guided relaxation following cardiac surgery: a randomized controlled trial. J Adv Nurs 2002;37(2):199-207.
- Hernandez-Reif M, Martinez A, et al. Premenstrual symptoms are relieved by massage therapy. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 2000;21(1):9-15.
- Kelmanson IA, Adulas EI. Massage therapy and sleep behaviour in infants born with low birth weight. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2006 Aug;12(3):200-5.
- Kim JS, Jo YJ, Hwang SK. [The effects of abdominal meridian massage on menstrual cramps and dysmenorrhea in full-time employed women] Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi 2005 Dec;35(7):1325-32.
- Macgregor R, Campbell R, Gladden MH, et al. Effects of massage on the mechanical behaviour of muscles in adolescents with spastic diplegia: a pilot study. Dev Med Child Neurol 2007 Mar;49(3):187-91.
- Perlman AI, Sabina A, Williams AL, et al. Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med 2006 Dec 11-25;166(22):2533-8.
- Roh YS, Cho H, Oh JO, et al. Effects of skin rehabilitation massage therapy on pruritus, skin status, and depression in burn survivors. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi 2007 Mar;37(2):221-6.
- Silva LM, Cignolini A, Warren R, et al. Improvement in sensory impairment and social interaction in young children with autism following treatment with an original Qigong massage methodology. Am J Chin Med 2007;35(3):393-406.
- Underdown A, Barlow J, Chung V, et al. Massage intervention for promoting mental and physical health in infants aged under six months. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2006 Oct 18;(4):CD005038.
- Wilkinson SM, Love SB, Westcombe AM, et al. Effectiveness of aromatherapy massage in the management of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. J Clin Oncol 2007 Feb 10;25(5):532-9.
British epidemiologist Archie Cochrane is regarded as the originator of the Evidence-Based Medicine concept (in the 1950s). And the Cochrane Library is a collection of very high-quality medical databases, which have, at their core, the Cochrane Reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analyses which summarize and interpret the results of well-conducted, randomized controlled trials… the ‘gold standard’ in Evidence-Based Medicine.
The Cochrane Library is a subscription-based database but offers free access to abstracts.
A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, PubMed was released in 1996 as a free digital archive of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics. PubMed comprises 20-million-plus citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals and online books from around the world. Some 11.5 million articles are listed with their abstract and 3.1 million articles are available in full-text for free.
The TRIP Database, launched in 1997, is a search engine designed to allow clinicians to quickly find answers to their medical questions using the best available evidence. Trip’s founders realized medical professionals were being forced to perform time-consuming searches at multiple websites to get at the most relevant information. So, they designed TRIP as a meta-search engine, allowing users to both simultaneously search thousands of databases, medical publications and resources, as well as easily filter the results: limiting searches to the most stringent, highest-quality medical evidence or expanding them to include results like patient information, news articles, etc.