Research Roundup: Massage Therapy Can Be Effective for Pain, Fatigue & Anxiety

Emerging research on massage therapy continues to expand knowledge of its benefits for a variety of health conditions. Recent studies reinforce evidence for the efficacy of massage therapy for pain, fatigue and anxiety, which millions of Americans are experiencing.

woman in pain

“With so many people living with chronic pain, it’s important for consumers to know how research is confirming the impact they have seen massage therapy can have on their health,” says AMTA President Christopher Deery in advance of the triannual International Massage Therapy Research Conference being held in Alexandria, Virginia later this week. “AMTA is committed to advancing research-informed massage therapy practice that is in the best interests of the health of our country.”

Massage is now a valuable component of treatments for pain after breast cancer surgery and cancer-related fatigue, as well as for low back pain and arthritis pain. One study supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health showed substantial improvements in pain, mobility, and overall health among intervention participants after breast cancer surgery. Myofascial massage significantly reduced self-reported pain and mobility limitations. Myofascial massage also resulted in significant improvements in self-reported overall health.1

Another study of cancer patients concluded that six weeks of weekly Swedish massage therapy produced a significant reduction in fatigue among breast cancer survivors who had received surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.2

Other recent studies have focused on massage therapy for chronic low back pain and arthritis pain. The Kentucky Pain Research and Outcomes Study evaluated the impact of massage on pain, disability, and health-related quality of life for primary care patients with chronic low back pain. The study found clinical improvement after 12 weeks of massage therapy.3 A systematic review of seven research studies on massage therapy for patients with arthritis indicated that massage therapy is superior to non-active therapies in reducing pain and improving certain functional outcomes.4

In a July 2018 national survey, 31 percent of adult Americans indicated they had received a massage from a massage therapist in the previous five years. Of those, who had a massage in the previous 12 months, 67 percent of those surveyed claimed the primary reason for receiving their last massage was medical (41 percent) or stress (26 percent) related.5

This and related research will be presented at the Massage Therapy Foundation’s International Massage Therapy Research Conference May 9-10 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Find a Massage Therapist Near You

Individuals should consult with a qualified, professional massage therapist to determine the best massage therapy approach for their specific needs. American Massage Therapy Association massage therapists meet or exceed state education requirements, ascribe to a code of ethics and participate in continuing education. They can create specialized massage approaches based on individual conditions, fitness and goals.

To find a massage therapist near you, AMTA offers a free professional massage therapist locator service at


  1.     Massingill J, Jorgensen C, Dolata J, Sehgal AR. Myofascial Massage for Chronic Pain and Decreased Upper Extremity Mobility After Breast Cancer Surgery. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2018 Aug 5;11(3):4-9.
  2.     Kinkead BSchettler PJLarson ERCarroll DSharenko MNettles JEdwards SAMiller AHTorres MADunlop BWRakofsky JJRapaport MH. Massage therapy decreases cancer-related fatigue: Results from a randomized early phase trial. Cancer. 2018 Feb 1;124(3):546-554.
  3.     Elder WG, Munk N, Love MM, Bruckner GG, Stewart KE, Pearce K. Real-World Massage Therapy Produces Meaningful Effectiveness Signal for Primary Care Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain: Results of a Repeated Measures Cohort Study. Pain Med. 2017 Jul 1;18(7):1394-1405
  4.     Nelson NL, Churilla JR.Massage Therapy for Pain and Function in Patients With Arthritis: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2017 Sep;96(9):665-672.
  5.     AMTA’s 22nd annual consumer survey conducted by ORC International. This report presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among two national probability samples, which, when combined, consists of 1,001 adults, 504 men and 497 women 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States and completed on July 12-15, 2018.

"AMTA does the most to support our profession."

Jesse J., AMTA member since 2011