May 9, 2022 - Decades of research have demonstrated the efficacy of massage therapy for relief of chronic pain and show its value in reducing the need for opioids. Pain, especially chronic pain, can be difficult to treat. For too long, the first option considered for pain management was a prescription, most commonly for opioids. As the United States continues to struggle with the opioid epidemic and its devastating effects on lives, society and the economy, AMTA believes it's important for those who suffer from pain and healthcare providers alike, to consider the role massage can play in an integrative approach to pain relief.
Recent Research Studies on Massage for Pain Relief and Health Conditions
A recently published study from the Cleveland Clinic shows that multidisciplinary, non-pharmacological integrative therapies, including massage therapy, can improve physical, mental and social health for patients with chronic, non-cancer related pain without increased use of opioid medications. Patients received an evaluation and evidence-based therapies from a team of integrative and lifestyle medicine professionals, including acupuncture, acupressure, massage therapy, cognitive therapy and chiropractic work. Relaxation techniques of meditation, yoga, breathing, and hypnotherapy were also used.1
Another recent study from the Stollery Children’s Hospital and the University of Alberta indicates that hand self-shiatsu massage therapy is effective in promoting sleep in young people with chronic pain. Participants self-applied a standardized hand shiatsu protocol and were measured for one week at the baseline before learning the hand self-shiatsu technique, and then at four- and eight-week follow-ups. At the various measurement points, the participants completed self-reported evaluations of their sleep quality and daytime fatigue. The standardized self-report measures demonstrated statistically significant improvement in perceived sleep disturbance, sleep-related impairment and daytime fatigue.2
In addition, a separate study is currently underway, examining how to help differentiate between the specific effects of myofascial massage and non-specific effects due to prolonged touch and attention from a massage therapist for post-surgery breast cancer patients. The massage therapy profession will be examining this and further research at the Massage Therapy Foundation’s International Massage Therapy Research Conference this month.3
“Research on the efficacy of massage therapy for chronic pain continues to show great promise,” says Michaele Colizza, AMTA President. “Patients should discuss massage therapy as part of an integrative approach to their care with their physicians, as it can provide real value and relief.”
Why Massage Therapy For Pain Is More Important Than Ever
During the pandemic, many chronic pain services were disrupted as healthcare systems throughout the country were forced to redistribute resources for non-urgent, outpatient care towards intensive care units for COVID-19 patients. This delayed access exacerbated the pain crisis in the U.S., contributing to drug over-reliance and substance abuse. Now that massage therapists are practicing again, non-opioid pain therapies, such as massage, are more important than ever. Consumers continue to value massage therapy as 92% consider it to be effective for reducing pain. In fact, pain relief is the top reason consumers talk to their physicians about massage.4
 Znidarsic J, et. al. (2021). “Living Well with Chronic Pain”: Integrative Pain: Integrative Pain Management via Shared Medical Appointments. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.), 22(1), 181–190. Retrieved May 6, 2022 from https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnaa418.
 Brown, C. A., Rivard, A., Reid, K., Dick, B., Bellmore, L., Qin, P., Prasad, V., & Wang, Y. (2020). Effectiveness of Hand Self-Shiatsu to Promote Sleep in Young People with Chronic Pain: a Case Series Design. International journal of therapeutic massage & bodywork, 13(4), 3–11. Retrieved May 6, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33282031/
 Sehgal, A, et al., (2020-2024). Pain and Immobility After Breast Cancer Surgery: A Community-Based Randomized Controlled Trial of Myofascial Massage Treatment. Investigators propose a randomized controlled trial looking at myofascial massage compared to a light touch group to look at the effects on pain and immobility following breast cancer surgery. Retrieved May 6, 2022 from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04233385?term=massage&cond=Breast+Cancer&draw=2&rank=5