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Massage Therapy Research Roundup

AMTA Massage Therapy Research Roundup

A growing body of evidence shows that massage therapy can be effective for a variety of health conditions. Massage is rapidly becoming recognized as an important part of health and wellness, and research is indicating some of what takes place in the body during massage therapy. 

Here are some recent findings on the benefits of massage therapy for health and medical reasons, compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association.


Massage Therapy for the Pain of Osteoarthritis of the Knee

Research supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) showed that sixty minute sessions of Swedish massage once a week for those with osteoarthritis of the knee significantly reduced their pain. Each massage therapy session followed a specific protocol, including the nature of massage strokes. This is the latest published research study indicating the benefits of massage therapy for those with osteoarthritis of the knee. 

  • The study involved a total group of 125 subjects, with 25 receiving the 60-minute massage over 8 weeks, while others received less massage or usual care without massage.
  • Previous studies on massage for the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee showed similar results, but were on a more limited number of subjects.

Perlman A, Ali A, Njike VY, et al. Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized dose-finding trial. PLoS One. 2012; 7(2):e30248.


Massage Therapy for Inflammation After Exercise

Research through the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario indicates that massage therapy reduces inflammation of skeletal muscle acutely damaged through exercise. The study provides evidence for the benefits of massage therapy for those with musculoskeletal injuries and potentially for those with inflammatory disease, according to the lead author of the research.

  • The study found evidence at the cellular level that massage therapy may affect inflammation in a way similar to anti-inflammatory medications.
  • The researchers “found that massage activated the mechanotransduction signaling pathways focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and extracellular signal–regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), potentiated mitochondrial biogenesis signaling [nuclear peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PGC-1α)], and mitigated the rise in nuclear factor κB (NFκB) (p65) nuclear accumulation caused by exercise-induced muscle trauma.”

J. D. Crane, D. I. Ogborn, C. Cupido, S. Melov, A. Hubbard, J. M. Bourgeois, M. A. Tarnopolsky, Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 119ra13 (2012).


Massage Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain

Research released in July 2011 expanded on previous studies demonstrating the effectiveness of massage therapy for chronic low back pain. Researchers found that “patients receiving massage were twice as likely as those receiving usual care to report significant improvements in both their pain and function”. The study was conducted over 10 weeks through Group Health Research Institute.

  • Participants had a 60-minute massage once a week for 10 weeks.
  • Massage patients also said they reduced the amount of over the counter anti-inflammatory medications they took.
  • The study compared both relaxation massage and “structural massage” therapy and found no difference in the results from the type of massage given.

Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, Wellman R, Cook AJ, Johnson E, Erro J, Delaney K, Deyo RA. A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial.
Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 5;155(1):1-9.


Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome characterized by generalized pain, joint rigidity, intense fatigue, sleep alterations, headache, spastic colon, craniomandibular dysfunction, anxiety, and depression. This study demonstrated that massage-myofascial release techniques improved pain and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. 

  • The study found reductions in sensitivity to pain at tender points in patients with fibromyalgia.
  • Patients in the massage group received 90-minute massage for 20 weeks.
  • Immediately after treatment and one month after the massage program, anxiety levels, quality of sleep, pain and quality of life were still improved.

Castro-Sánchez, A.M., Matarán-Peñarrocha, G.A., Granero-Molina, J., Aguilera-Manrique, G., Quesada-Rubio, J.M., Moreno-Lorenzo, C. (2011). Benefits of massage-myofascial release therapy on pain, anxiety, quality of sleep, depression, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011:561753.


The American Massage Therapy Association encourages more research on the benefits of massage therapy and how and why massage produces the benefits indicated by research.

Media Contacts: Ron Precht, Michelle Zenz - 877.905.2700

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Consumer Survey Facts

  • 75% of individuals surveyed claim their primary reason for receiving a massage in the past 12 months was medical (43%) and stress (32%) related
  • 87% of individuals view massage as being beneficial to overall health and wellness
  • 61% of respondents said their physician has recommended they get a massage.

Visit AMTA's research section for more information from our consumer and industry fact sheets.

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