Definition of Massage

Massage: This modality uses direct hands-on manipulation of the surface of the body to achieve therapeutic results. Massage therapy includes many sub specialties that are focused on specific types of injury treatment, stress reduction, or release of tensions. They range from forceful, deep movements to extremely light superficial treatments.

Explore Massage research in the following databases: 

PubMed  Trip Cochrane*
*The Cochrane database requires users to enter the search term manually. Enter “massage”

Research Spotlight

The databases often return hundreds of medical studies for a single wellness approach. This section summarizes a sampling of five studies – providing just a taste of the available research. 

  • New Back Pain Guidelines: Try Acupuncture, Massage, Tai Chi or Yoga Before Pills
    The American College of Physicians, after a systematic review of randomized, controlled trials and systematic reviews (published through 4/2015), issued new guidelines for acute, subacute and chronic lower back pain – recommending non-invasive, alternative approaches like acupuncture, massage, exercise, tai chi, heat wraps and mindfulness/yoga first – and prescription drugs only as the last resort. 
    Access this study on massage, etc.
  • Multiple Massage Treatments Help Reduce Neck Pain Intensity and Dysfunction
    A 2014 study (University of Washington, etc.) randomized 228 patients with chronic neck pain into groups receiving various doses of massage, and found that after four weeks of treatment that multiple 60-minute massages/week were significantly more effective than fewer or shorter sessions for reducing pain intensity and neck dysfunction. 
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  • Massage Helps Reduce Inflammation and Pain in Hyperactive Male Athletes
    A small Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University study (Canada, 2012) involved the genetic analysis of muscle biopsies in males that had exercised to exhaustion, finding that a 10-minute massage reduced the production of cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation – and stimulated mitochondria, which convert glucose into energy needed for cell function and repair – the first research suggesting that massage can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines which may be involved in pain. 
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  • Single Session of Massage Causes Profound Biological Changes
    A Cedars Sinai Medical Center study on the effects of a single 45-minute session of (deep tissue) Swedish massage (vs. a light touch massage control) found that Swedish massage caused profound biological changes: significant decreases in AVP – decreases in the primary stress hormone cortisol – and an increase in circulating lymphocytes, the white blood cells that defend the body against disease. 
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  • Ongoing Weekly Massages Create Cumulative, Positive Biological Changes
    A follow-up study by Cedars Sinai Medical Center on the effect of REPEATED (as opposed to a single session) of Swedish massage (vs. a light touch control), found that five weeks of weekly Swedish massage increased circulating lymphocytes (white blood cells that defend the body from disease) and decreased mitogen-stimulated cytokine production. While ongoing twice-weekly massage further decreased stress hormone cortisol and hormone AVP (neuroendocrine stress measures), the results also suggested it may slightly increase pro-inflammatory cytokines. Conclusion: Swedish massage (vs. light touch) creates sustained, cumulative, positive biological changes that last for several days or a week, but they differ significantly based on the frequency of sessions. 
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Read more study snapshots

Studies-in-Progress/Clinical Trials Underway

A clinical trial is any research study that assigns people to health-related interventions to evaluate the outcomes. “Interventions” include drugs, surgical procedures, devices, behavioral treatments, preventive care, etc.

Access all studies currently available for Massage in these databases:

PubMed  Trip Cochrane*

*The Cochrane database requires users to enter the search term manually. Enter “massage”