Although many individuals perceive massage as a luxury item and not a therapy, this form of treatment can be highly effective in resolving health challenges such as stress. Using massage therapy for stress involves the work of a trained professional manipulating your muscles and other tissues to produce relief and relaxation in a calm, soothing environment. The effectiveness of massage can depend on your personal needs and perspective, and the type of therapy you receive.
The Mayo Clinic lists the common types of massage techniques, all of which are helpful for stress reduction. Deep-tissue massage works to manipulate the deeper levels of muscles and is commonly used to treat muscle injuries. Trigger point massage focuses on specific areas where your muscles are tight or overused. Swedish massage is designed to bring relaxation and energy, and sports massage is similar but has the additional goal of treating or protecting you from injuries. In contrast, Shiatsu massage uses strong pressure that elicits pain but leads to relaxation. Finally, reflexology massage targets acupuncture points in your feet and hands.
You may find that massage reduces stress related to specific medical conditions. The American Cancer Society, or ACS, has conducted studies of massage’s effects on cancer patients, and has found some encouraging results. ACS reports that patients who received massages experienced a decrease in anxiety and stress. In fact, ACS notes that many medical professionals recognize massage as a helpful adjunct to conventional treatments.
There’s evidence that massage therapy can help with stress in the workplace. In a 1997 study conducted by Bowling Green State University in Ohio, 52 employees participated in 15-minute chair massage sessions at work. Employees’ blood pressure readings were obtained before and after the massage sessions. Study analysis indicated a “significant” reduction in employees’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings after the massages, although no control group was used in the study.
Massage therapy may reduce stress by relieving muscle tension and soreness. The Georgia Department of Community Health states that massage also releases natural painkillers that help relieve stress. In addition, massage therapy usually involves a relaxing experience that helps you physically unwind and promotes a sense of well-being and rest.
Massage therapy involves minimal risks. If you are pregnant, consult your obstetrician before using massage. Also, the Mayo Clinic recommends obtaining your doctor’s approval before getting a massage if you have any wounds, fractures, severe osteoporosis, cancer, blood clots or rheumatic arthritis. These conditions may not prevent you from using massage therapy to treat stress, but your doctor may provide you with special guidelines.
Scientific research regarding the effectiveness of massage therapy in treating stress is limited, and as of 2010 studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is being performed to further our understanding of how massage therapy works. However, most individuals who use massage report a reduced level of stress and an increased sense of well-being and relaxation. The benefits from massage therapy are maximized when it is combined with other healthy methods of coping with stress.
- Mayo Clinic: Massage
- Georgia Department of Community Health: Massage
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Massage Therapy
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Benefits of Massage Therapy
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Massage Types for Stress Relief
- American Cancer Society: Massage Therapy Benefits for Cancer Patients
- National Institutes of Health: Massage Therapy as a Workplace Intervention for Reduction of Stress: Cady, S.H. et. al. 1997