Massage is the manual or mechanical manipulation of soft tissue to improve health. It is a holistic therapy that's believed to affect all body systems.
Massage might reduce swelling, increase the flow of oxygen into tissues, soften or stretch scar tissue, reduce the build-up of lactic acid in muscles, allow muscles to relax, and stimulate the healing of connective tissue or damaged muscles.
People commonly use massage for back pain and cancer-related pain. It is also used for relaxation, constipation, multiple sclerosis (MS), asthma, athletic performance, stress, and many other purposes, but there is no good scientific evidence to support most of these other uses.
Is It Effective?
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
- Back pain. Different forms of massage seem to temporarily relieve back pain. But it's not clear which forms help most.
- Pain in people with cancer. Massage seems to reduce pain and anxiety in people with cancer. But it's not clear which forms help most.
- Burns. Massage on unburned portions of skin seems to help reduce pain and anxiety in people with burns.
- Constipation. Stomach massage seems to improve bowel function in adults and children who are constipated.
- Diseases, such as Alzheimer disease, that interfere with thinking (dementia). Massage seems to help reduce pain and anxiety in people with dementia.
- Fibromyalgia. Massage seems to help reduce pain in people with fibromyalgia.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS). Massage seems to improve some symptoms of MS, including fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
- Yellowing of the skin in infants (neonatal jaundice). Infant massage along with light therapy helps jaundice resolve faster than just using light therapy alone.
- Chronic pain. Massage seems to reduce pain, depression, and anxiety, and improve overall mental health in people with pain. But it only seems to help short-term.
- Pain after surgery. Massage after surgery seems to help reduce pain and anxiety, at least for a few days. But these benefits don't seem to last long-term.
- Growth and development in premature infants. Massage seems to help increase body weight and improve feeding in premature infants.
- Stress. Massage seems to help reduce stress in people with many different conditions and situations.
There is interest in using massage for a number of other purposes, but there isn't enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.
Is it Safe?
Massage is likely safe when used in most conditions associated with stress and pain. Massage can cause soreness in some people. More aggressive forms of massage, such as deep tissue massage, seem to be more likely to cause side effects. Massage shouldn't be used in place of treatment with more proven therapies.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Most types of massage are likely safe when used to improve mood and physical well-being during pregnancy and labor. There isn't enough reliable information to know if more aggressive forms of massage, such as deep tissue massage, are safe.
Children: Most types of massage are likely safe for children. There isn't enough reliable information to know if more aggressive forms of massage, such as deep tissue massage, are safe.
Broken or damaged skin: Massage might make damaged or broken skin worse.
Clotting disorders: Massage might increase the risk of blood clots in people who already have a higher risk for blood clots.
Cartilage or bone overgrowth: Massage might increase the risk of damage to a blood vessel in people with an overgrowth of the bone or cartilage.
It is not known if this treatment interacts with any medicines. Before using this treatment, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
There are no known interactions with foods.
Massage techniques vary. Practitioners mainly use their hands, but may also use their forearms, elbows, or even their feet. Swedish massage is the most commonly practiced form of massage. Other types of massage include sports massage, Esalen massage, and deep tissue massage. Depending on the technique, sessions may last from 15 to 90 minutes. They are typically administered in a comfortable, quiet location. Soothing, repetitive, low-volume music or sounds may be played in the background.
In the US, massage therapist licensing requirements vary state to state. Some practitioners are licensed as other types of healthcare professionals, including nurses and physical therapists. Massage shouldn't be used in place of more proven therapies.
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