Is a massage something you only do as a treat for a job well done, a hard-won race, or a celebratory trip to the day spa?
Research says it shouldn't be, and so should you. Americans spend too much time working and not enough time taking care of their bodies and minds.
A recent Pew Research study shows that when asked how likely they are to believe that there is a direct correlation between hard work and getting ahead in life, on a scale of 1 to 10, 73% of Americans said it is was a “10” or “very important.” The corresponding global median among 44 other nations surveyed came in at a mere 50%.
And say what you will about millennials today, but they're getting one thing right: they're prioritizing their overall health and wellness over "getting ahead."
This is not to say they don't value hard work and the importance of earning and saving (turns out they do), but they're also shaping up to be putting front and center massage, meditation, and talk therapy in an effort to stay well, and live healthier, longer lives.
The results of that remain to be seen of course, but at this point, the numbers are on their side. A recent study shows they're focusing on today, their bodies and minds, and they are healthier for it.
Science on all sides bears out that massage can be immeasurably healing for myriad ailments--from physical to emotional--and if you aren't already, it's high time to start listening.
Following are 55 conditions that can be improved by a massage.
55 Health Benefits of Massage
Help with Chronic Back Pain
If you want to see some staggering statistics, look up the number of people who suffer from chronic back pain.
It's at the top of the bell curve, and unfortunately, the causes are so many in number, that there's often no way to pin down exactly what the source of the pain is. In some cases, people undergo surgery, but that can be risky at best, and sometimes it does nothing to ease the pain.
So, doctors and researchers have all found that the best course of action is treatment, and the best treatment to date is massage.
Researchers and oncologists, massage therapists and cancer patients all agree on this one: massage is one of the best treatments to ease the body and mind for those suffering from cancer.
The benefits of massage for cancer patients are almost too many to list.
To name a few, on the emotional side of the spectrum, it makes them feel whole and in touch with their body. The power of touch is hard to quantify in chronically ill patients. There are few better things, save medicine that cures. It helps to build and sustain hope, helps them to relax, and eases stress. Physically it helps ease the pain of the disease and associated treatments, and helps with fatigue, nausea, and depression.
Reducing Anxiety, Increasing Alertness when Doing Math
We all know how stressful tests can be, and for many of us, math is a killer. More adolescents report feeling added stress when about to take or during a math exam than almost any other subject. As parents, it's hard to know where to turn for help. It turns out, massage can help reduce the anxiety and increase mental alertness when doing math. SAT coming up from one of your teens? Schedule a massage. You might be surprised by the results.
Fibromyalgia sufferers live a life of almost unyielding pain. They experience a nagging sensation throughout their bodies almost constantly. They suffer from joint tenderness, muscle pain, and often hurt even to the touch.
While there is no cure, they often turn to massage for pain management (link to: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24586677), and it has been shown time and again to help. The condition affects nearly five million Americans, and an associated cure remains a mystery to scientists and care givers, but they all agree that massage improve the quality of lives from those who undergo it on a regular basis.
Our heads weigh as much (or in some cases, more) than a 10-pound bowling ball.
It's a lot of weight for our bodies to carry around, and add to that the fact that the jaw and neck muscles pull on us in opposite directions, and that we all carry around stress in our shoulders, necks, backs, and jaws.
Put that all together and you have a recipe for a nation wrought with headaches--cluster, tension, and otherwise. Luckily, the research is plentiful in this area, supporting the many benefits of massage on all manner of headaches.
Unfortunately, we have not eradicated HIV/AIDS all together, but the upside is that many live with HIV/AIDS today, much the same way that people do with other chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.
In so many cases we are fortunate enough to be able to sustain the lives of those suffering with a combination of drugs and therapies. Massage is a key component in a prolonged and healthier life in those with HIV/AIDS.
Lower back pain
Like chronic back pain, lower back pain is rampant among people around the world, but for Americans in particular.
Like other types of back pain as well as headaches, we know that stress is a big component to the problem(s).
Neuroscientists have found that regular massage not only reduces lower back pain, but increases range of motion as well. Many who suffer from lower back pain live with the discomfort and stress and accept as fact their limited mobility. This doesn't have to be the case. If your lower back has become so painful that you find yourself limiting what you do, increase your quality of life with massage.
Anxiety and depression: serotonin, cortisol, and dopamine levels in the brain
If you or someone you know doesn't suffer from anxiety, depression, or other emotional disorder, consider yourself incredibly lucky. These diseases are very common in our stressful society, and researchers have found direct links to them and low levels of serotonin and dopamine in our brains.
Once again, massage therapy has shown to increase the levels of both serotonin and dopamine, and lower cortisol. Studies included patients who suffered trauma, had chronic diseases, eating disorders, and mental health issues, and all experienced an alleviating of the effects of stress (decreased cortisol) and an increase in the positive effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) of a healthy mind:body connection.
Benefit Spinal Cord Patients
As is often the case with people who suffer from chronic pain or have a serious physical or emotional illness, their symptoms are often accompanied by depression.
Spinal cord patients are no exception, and massage therapy has been proven to improve their upper body strength, range of motion, and symptoms of depression.
Osteoarthritis of the knee
According to the Centers for Disease Control, osteoarthritis of the knee affects over 60 million adults in the US alone.
People with this condition suffer from pain, aching, stiffness, swelling, and a decreased range of motion. Amid the suggested protocols are physical therapy, strengthening, exercise, weight loss, and sometimes surgery.
Is there a group of people who can't catch a break like those of post-menopausal women?!
Bone loss, insomnia, hot flashes... I won't say we (I mean, ::cough::, they, ::cough::) don't have it worse than others, but thankfully there's a massage.
Studies show massage improves blood flow, promotes relaxation, and is highly effective in treating insomnia, depression, and anxiety in post-menopausal women.
Speaking of those nasties that ail us, ladies, can we please just for one second talk about cellulite? We all know what we need to do, and I hope most if not all of us do it.
Eat well, exercise regularly. But here's the thing, cellulite is genetic, and sometimes it just is. And we love ourselves despite it. (And we DO love ourselves!). But guess what?
Massage therapy can help. There's is actual proven research that shows regular massage actually smooths the skin. Need I say more? No. Yet another health benefit of regular massage.
Reduce Chronic Pain
We've discussed chronic pain as it pertains to migraines and other headaches, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other illnesses, but it's worth mentioning it in general.
There is a huge field of researchers and scientists that study chronic pain and the result it has on our bodies and minds, and it's profound. Among other remedies such as meditation and acupuncture, studies show subjects experience significant pain relief from massage therapy.
Treating Migraine Headaches
While tension, cluster, and stress-related headaches are proven to be not only prevalent, but incurable, migraines are in some cases another beast all together. Patients who suffer from migraine headaches experience debilitating pain, often accompanied by depression, and sometimes have trouble eating or leaving the house.
The condition is among the most prevalent of our health issues and the occurrences are on the rise.
Many studies have been done, and the research continues to pile up in favor of treating migraines with massage. Most people who experience chronic migraines are almost always under medication, but some people can't tolerate it due to its side effects.
Others simply don't choose to take medication. For these people massage is an excellent (and preferred option for the treatment of pain and nausea).
Blood Pressure and Heart Health
If there's one thing we know it's that heart health is of the utmost importance. Between heart disease and cancer, we are in statistically significant territory. Thankfully, massage therapy has been proven to have major health benefits for those who suffer from high blood pressure.
There are many types of leukemia, many of which can be managed through drug and other therapies.
Some types of Leukemia are acute, however, and while there are many types of treatments, including chemotherapy and immunotherapy both in practice today as well as in clinical trials, there has been some very promising research that shows the benefits of massage on people suffering from acute Leukemia. Massage therapy has been proven to reduce pain and fatigue and to cure those patients suffering from Leukemia-onset insomnia.
Studies have been conducted to isolate the varying problems and disorders that are a direct result of Parkinson's disease. Among them are range of motion, how much gait and speed of walking are affected, and pain, stiffness, and fatigue. For all symptoms, massage therapy enabled improvement.
Anyone who has had a baby with colic knows how hard it is on both the parents and the baby. There's nothing more stressful than an unhappy or unhealthy baby, and colic is very worrisome. It can lead to feelings of depression and helplessness for the parents, and as we know, extreme discomfort for the babies. Research shows however, that massage helps ease the symptoms of colic on children in significantly significant number over rocking.
Reducing pain for people suffering from MS
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation estimates that roughly 4.5 million people worldwide suffer from MS. The symptoms include pain, fatigue, and muscle spasms. Luckily, relief can be found in massage therapy. Massage has been proven to alleviate the pain associated with MS as an excellent substitute from pharmacological therapies.
End-of-life treatment is a hard subject and an even harder problem. There are many, many issues associated with chronic illness at its end stages, among them, severe trauma to the body and mind. Research shows massage therapy aids patients' experience of depression, anxiety, and physical pain that is otherwise felt to be seemingly insurmountable.
Jaundice in infants occurs when a baby has a high level of bilirubin in the blood. Often jaundice goes away on its own, naturally, shortly after a baby is born. Other times, however, the body is unable to process the bilirubin, and the jaundice must be treated. Luckily, massage therapy (sometimes combined with phototherapy) has been proven an effective method for reducing the total bilirubin in infants with neonatal jaundice.
Feeding improvement in preemies
Premature infants come with a host of challenges, and one of the most important, is how to ensure they get enough nutrition. Often because they cannot eat on their own, the only way to feed them is by providing enteral nutrition. This means basically the baby must be fed through a feeding tube.
This might sound rough, but truth be told, it is quite common, and literally a lifesaver.
There are sometimes risks and speed bumps nurses and hospital staff must overcome, and research concludes that enteral feeding improvement massage can be helpful for achieving earlier full enteral feeding, more increased superior mesentery artery, and faster growing. One fewer thing for parents of premature infants have to worry about is one to be hugely thankful for.
Adolescents with Cancer
Adolescents, adults, and children are different in more ways than we can list. And how they experience and respond to disease and treatments is no exception to the rule. In adolescents with cancer, they have the additional struggle of well, adolescence.
They are dealing with hormones coursing through their bodies, growing, and a host of other challenges.
Add a critical illness to the mix, and you have added propensity for fatigue, depression, pain, and anxiety. Studies have shown, thankfully, that massage therapy can be beneficial in reducing all three.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, and the science supports it. Massage is great for relieving stress. And if there's a silver lining to the numbers of people receiving massage, we can thank the hordes seeking stress relief.
Luckily, research shows receiving massage significantly reduces stress and improves your mental state. Most people tend to hit the massage table as a last resort, however, for chronic pain and illnesses, but massage, while great for stress reduction alone, works double duty in these instances, staving off physical pain as well.
There's a lot of work being done in the research fields for both dementia and Alzheimer’s lately, so the statistical significance is not fully formed.
Early studies, however, while mainly showing we need to do more research, are bearing out that many patients who suffer from dementia are getting relief from many of their symptoms with massage therapy. The early research is showing massage is helping those suffering from dementia in the areas of restlessness, sleeplessness, demeanor.
Surgical Pain and Anxiety
Like the onset of stress and anxiety when we think about having to do math, most of us have the same response when we know we have to undergo surgery.
Studies are now showing that patients who receive massage are experiencing a reduction in both pain and anxiety. Like the work being done in the field of dementia, science is showing we need more science, but the preliminary results are leaning towards the positive effects of massage.
It's no secret that having a baby is stressful, both physically and emotionally.
It's easy to think that the pre-birth stress is worse, and that once the baby is born, there will be massive (not a complete reduction, but some) relief.
For many women this is the case, but for the majority, the first few days and weeks right after giving birth are the toughest, but luckily, massage helps.
Women in the study who received back massage the day after giving birth experienced reduced anxiety levels.
It's normal to feel anxious, but over 40 million people suffer from debilitating anxiety, the variation referred to as general anxiety disorder. Anxiety has been on the rise in our ever-increasingly stressful world, and there are few remedies other than medication.
Similar to high blood pressure, hypertension is a major epidemic and part of the overall assault on our heart health as a society.
Loads of research is happening in this area, and the initial results are pointing to massage having overall positive effects in lowering the blood pressure in those who suffer from hypertension.
It's not known if autism is becoming more prevalent, or if it's been around for ages, and we just didn't have a name (or the right name) for it. It could also be that it went undiagnosed, or was mis-diagnosed.
Whatever the case, it affects a huge swath of our population, and its effects are stressful and traumatic (and sometimes exhilarating). It can manifest challenges in a child's development with regard to speech, social interaction, eating, sleeping, and bowel function.
Not surprisingly, studies show that massage can provide relief.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is marked by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It's a brain disorder that affects thousands of children; it interferes with their growth, development, and how they function socially and emotionally. A study shows that daily massage therapy can help people with ADHD. The research indicates that those patients who received massage felt happier and were less likely to fidget and exhibit signs of hyperactivity.
Sports performance and rehabilitation
For those weekend warriors who run a race, hit the gym, or say yes to that ball game or big hike when it's not in their normal routing, a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday massage is often on the books.
It might be a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that it's hard to climb the stairs after the big show, but nonetheless, the results are positive. Studies show that post-sports massage has positive benefits for recovery and future performance.
Massage isn't something that might initially come to mind as a remedy for patients with severe burns, but it turns out that in a study with 20 burn patients, massage reduced itching and pain, reduced their anxiety, and improved their mood. This is a major victory in the field of burn research, as burn victims incur some of the most excruciating pain from their injuries, and often also suffer corresponding acute depression.
Anxiety in psychiatric children and Adolescent Patients
Much research has been done in the field of psychiatric patients and their corresponding levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. While the brain is still something we're only just beginning to understand, we have made huge strides in understanding its function and anomalies.
Psychiatric patients, in addition to their various symptoms, often experience high levels of anxiety due to the fact that society still views emotional and brain-related diseases as somewhat mysterious. It's also just plain scary to have a physical disease that is in your brain, as opposed to say, your arm or your heart. It shouldn't be, but it is. Psychiatric patients feel stigmatized, and they're scared. Rightfully so.
Unfortunately, there are very few non-pharma remedies or relief, but luckily for patients, massage provides an avenue for a reduction of anxiety and stress.
Stress Reduction in the Workplace
I know none of us has to read an article or be told that stress in the workplace is at an all-time high. Americans work harder than any other people in the world, and we have the stress-related injuries and afflictions to show for it. Repeated studies have been done on the benefits of massage for the reduction of work-related stress, and we need a government-mandate for, at the bare minimum, mandatory 20-minute chair massages every week at work. Can I get a, what-what?!
Nurses' stress reduction
Nurses, health-providers, doctors, hospice-care workers, psychologists, social workers... they all need additional stress relief and reduction. We turn to them in time of need, and who is there for them when theirs hits? Massage therapists, thankfully.
And due to their vocation, it hits early and often. Scientific studies show that massage therapy greatly reduces the symptoms of undue stress in nurses.
Elders Giving massage to Infants: Benefits
This study shows what a beautiful life coming full circle can manifest. In the study, three times for three weeks, ten elder retired volunteers received massage.
For another three weeks, they gave massage to infants. The results showed greater benefit in the subjects when they gave massage to the infants: less anxiety and depression and lower stress hormones levels. Call it what you will, but elderly people giving infants massage just makes the world a better place. And science agrees.
Pain and mood in patients with advanced cancer
As discussed throughout this article, chronic pain, disease, and pain have tremendous effect on mood and emotional wellbeing.
Studies show that massage greatly improves both mood and pain levels in patients with advanced cancer. The massage also bore out greater benefits overall than did their pharmacological treatments.
Exercise induced inflammation reduction
It's no surprise that massage helps us feel better after a big workout, but research shows that it also acts to actually reduce inflammation. So, while the post-massage will just help you feel better, it'll also help your muscles rebuild faster and reduce the swelling.
So, added benefit, you can take fewer Advil than you might have thought.
Depression in pregnant women
As is the case with many of the conditions that massage therapy helps with, it more often than not, has to do with hormone levels.
People who suffer from depression exhibit an imbalance of dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol, and massage therapy has been proven repeatedly to combat and offset these imbalances. Add pregnancy and the resulting hormones into the mix, and you have a significant challenge in depressed pregnant women.
In a study of 84 depressed women, a third were given massage, a third nothing (control group), and a third standard pre-natal care only.
The third in the massage group showed higher levels of dopamine and serotonin, and lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine. It is suggested that this might have contributed to the reduced fetal activity and the better neonatal outcome for the massage group. It follows that both mother and baby benefited from massage.
Wellbeing increase and stress reduction in elders
Society does not make it easy on the elderly. In many cultures elders are revered and treated as elites, bringing wisdom, history, and knowledge to our lives. Unfortunately, this is not the case in some cultures, and the elderly are often ignored and sidelined, being treated as second-class citizens.
AS a result, many older people are depressed, anxious, and withdraw from society and human interaction.
A study was performed to see if the effects of massage therapy had a positive effect on the mental wellbeing of elderly citizen and if it decreased stress.
It is no surprise that massage therapy had all positive outcomes, leaving the elder study participants feeling less stress and an enhanced feeling of wellbeing.
Increased sleep and weight gain in preemies
In a study performed on premature babies, looking specifically at weight gain and sleep/wake behavior, healthy, low-risk preterm infants gained more weight and slept less with just 5 days of massage.
The babies in the study received body stroking as well as passive limb movement, and it follows that touch, ambulatory manipulation, and light massage has positive effects on premature babies.
For many, daily life is dependent on successful management of pain. It might be chronic, disease-related, or something else, but managing pain on an ongoing basis is (of course) painful, complicated, stressful, and often times debilitating.
A study done on adding massage to standard pharmacological or no pain management shows that massage therapy is strongly recommended.
Parents of children with disabilities
Parents who have disabled children face untold challenges.
They have to wade through doctors, sometimes clinical trials, usually many medications and treatments, and always uncertainty, doubt, frustration, and anguish. They often feel helpless, alone, and depressed.
A study done where parents were trained how to give their children massage showed that parents felt empowered, that they were parenting effectively and providing their children with adequate relief, and a decrease in caregiver depression.
Lower blood pressure, slower heart rate, immune system boost
The jury is in on hypertension and blood pressure reduction.
Massage is good for your heart. But now there's added evidence that it also boosts your immune system. Relieving our out of control hypertension epidemic is evidence enough that we should all be getting more massages, but knowing it's good for our overall health and longevity forecast, makes it a no-brainer.
Burn rehab massage therapy
We've seen the research on massage therapy and burn relief (itching, pain), but there's also evidence to suggest that massage helps overall rehabilitation for burn patients.
The results of the study indicate that massage therapy is effective in improving pain, pruritus, and scarring.
If you're one of those people who is asleep before your head hits the pillow, I want to strangle you. Just kidding! Lucky you!
There are many reasons so many people suffer from sleeplessness, restlessness, and insomnia (stress, stress, and stress), but the remedies are few and far between. Sleeping pills are not ideal--some don't work and others are basically horse tranquilizers--and there aren't a lot of other options.
Thankfully, however, a non-pharmaceutical option is massage, and it's proven effective.
Children with asthma
Asthma is scary stuff, and if you yourself have it, or have a child who does, you know how helpless it can make you feel. It comes on quick, and aside from the sheer trauma of it, you have to be ready at a moment's notice, which makes breathing easy (in everyday life) even harder.
A study of 60 children with asthma was performed, half being given massage, and half not, in the attempt to study the effects of massage on their asthma symptoms.
The study found that pulmonary functions in the massage group was increased as opposed to the non-massaged group. While more research is underway and warranted, it's a good indication that evidence is on the side of massage benefiting those with asthma.
Like back pain, neck pain is prevalent, and makes life incredibly difficult. Neck pain can be hard to diagnose and treat, in part because of our whole-body connection. The neck, back, and jaw and associated muscles are interrelated.
It's also hard for doctors to find the cause, as it can be stress, physical, or emotional trauma that causes the pain. While there aren't many treatments besides medication, physical and massage therapy have shown to have positive effects on reducing symptoms.
Narcolepsy is a rare but serious disorder wherein sufferers experience excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep paralysis, cataplexy, nocturnal sleeping patterns, and hypnagogic hallucinations.
You might have seen in characterized in movies improperly, where people literally fall over in the street.
This is a rare case and often misrepresented, but the actual disease is quite serious. There is much to be learned in the field, but research has come in that shows narcoleptic patients benefit from massage.
Metastatic Bone Pain
Patients with metastatic bone cancers report some of the highest levels of pain on the scale. Roughly 35-45% percent report a lowered quality of life, and many patients have severe sleep problems.
A study showing the positive effects from massage therapy on patients with metastatic bone cancer is incredibly hopeful and a beacon of light in an otherwise dim prognosis and outlook.
Help with Depression
Depression, like anxiety, is one of the latest (almost) silent killers. More people suffer from depression now than ever in our history, and the pharmaceutical industry can attest to its prevelance.
Many studies have been done in the postitive effects of massage on depression, and they all show it helps a lot.
Whether it's the result of a mental health issue, a physical disease, or stress or trauma disorder, research is on the side of massage in the treatment of depression.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
You probably remember the large uptick in people diagnoses with Carpal Tunnel syndrome in the early nineties. The tech boom and associated careers in software programming led a lot of people to turn to sitting at their keyboards for untold hours on end. As a result, many of them now have significant and incredibly painful never damage. Science indicates relief can be had with added massage therapy.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
I once saw a massage therapist who specialized in foot reflexology.
I had never had my feet very thoroughly massaged--at least by a professional--and the first thing she asked me after massaging my feet for a few minutes was if my stomach had been bothering me.
It had. It turns out there's a lot to be learned about our stomachs not only via our feet, but via massage.
I felt better after that hour, and it turns out many IBS sufferers experience similar relief from their symptoms with regular massage therapy.
I didn't have anywhere near the painful result of the digestive problems people with IBS have, but it was a glimpse into a bright future of relief.
People who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have a range of symptoms and more often than not constipation is one of them.
Research shows that massage on pressure points can be used to stimulate sluggish digestion for people with constipation.
It's also proven to relax abdominal muscles can help stimulate the colon.
Here you have it. I hope you enjoyed this guide. Hours and hours of research went to it, so if you enjoy this guide please share it on social media or links to it.
Hopefully it can help someone who really needs it.