Massage Therapy’s Top 10 Benefits

Research has found a variety of conditions that can be improved with massage
April 6, 2020 Updated: April 11, 2020

Massage feels great and research shows it can improve your health in many ways. From depression and insomnia to preterm birth and autism, massage has been found to offer important health gains for people from young to old.

Massage is often seen as a way to relax and indulge, but there is a wealth of scientific research documenting its health benefits. These are the top ten conditions that research has so far found the most benefit from massage.

1. Depression

Mothers who learned to give their baby an infant massage experienced reduced postpartum depression and increased mother-baby interactions.[i],[ii] Massaged mothers had less postpartum depression, decreased anxiety and pain during labor and shortened labor time and hospital stay.[iii]

Women who were massaged during pregnancy were also less likely to have a premature birth or a baby with low birth weight.[iv] Senior depression was also reduced with an aromatherapy massage.[v] Massage also alleviated depressive symptoms in a meta-analysis of 786 individuals.[vi]

2. Preterm Births

Massage therapy benefited preterm infants leading to higher weight and growth.[vii] Massage increased vagal activity (vagus nerve regulates heart rate, vessel constriction, heart/lungs/digestive tract activities), gastric motility (greater food digestion)[viii] and led to higher awake periods and motor activity for pre-term babies.[ix]

Massaged healthy preterm infants gained more weight and were more active.[x] Massaged cocaine-exposed preterm neonates had 28 percent greater weight gain, fewer postnatal complications, and better motor skills.[xi]

3. Autism

Massage benefits autistic children by increasing the emotional bond with parents;[xii] improving language, social skills and behaviors;[xiii] lowering conduct problems and anxiety;[xiv] and enhancing touch tolerance, routine tasks, and communication with parents.[xv]

4. Insomnia

Insomnia and sleep disorders can benefit from massage as well. For example, foot massage with acupuncture improved sleep quality for patients with insomnia.[xvi] Massage improved sleep quality and life quality of end-stage renal disease patients suffering from sleep disorders.[xvii] Advanced cancer patients receiving massage also improved their sleep and experienced reduced depression.[xviii]

5. Immunity

Scientific research is uncovering the link between massage therapies and immunity. A study of aromatherapy massage showed immune properties and psychological benefits.[xix] Swedish massage also increased immunity markers for healthy adults.[xx]

Massaged patients with HIV showed increased cytotoxic capacity (as illustrated with higher natural killer cell (NKC) numbers and cytotoxicity, and lymphocytes).[xxi] Breast cancer patients receiving massage showed greater immunity (increased dopamine levels, NKC, and lymphocytes).[xxii],[xxiii]

Aromatherapy massage can be beneficial for the immune systems of colorectal cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, by increasing the number of lymphocytes and reducing common symptoms of pain, stress, and fatigue.[xxiv] Massage also improved well-being and helped to delay symptom progression in Parkinson’s disease patients.[xxv]

6. Cancer

A meta-analysis of 14 cancer studies demonstrated multiple benefits—including decreased pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, anger, stress, and fatigue—when massage was used as a treatment.[xxvi] Massaged cancer patients reduced their pain, symptom distress, and anxiety.[xxvii]

In a meta-analysis of 559 patients (12 studies), massage relieved cancer pain, particularly surgery-related.[xxviii] Touch therapies showed positive outcomes during bone marrow transplants.[xxix] Breast cancer patients experienced lower nausea,[xxx] depression and neuropathy (nerve damage) from cancer treatments as well due to massage.[xxxi]

7. Knee Osteoarthritis

A study of 59 seniors found they experienced short-term relief from knee pain intensity, stiffness, and greater physical function with aromatherapy massage.[xxxii] Osteoarthritic knee patients, who massaged their knee with ginger oil, reported lowered knee pain and increased knee function.[xxxiii]

Swedish massage helped those with knee osteoarthritis improve in pain severity, stiffness, physical function, range of motion, and time (seconds) to walk 50 feet.[xxxiv]

Sixty osteoarthritis patients randomly assigned to Thai massage, Thai herbal compress, or oral ibuprofen had similar improvements in pain, stiffness, function, and climbing steps.[xxxv]  Massage remarkably has been shown to be an effective natural alternative to drugs (some with long term side effects) for relief of osteoarthritis in the knee.

8. Lower Back Pain

Massage benefited lower back pain patients, according to a meta-analysis of eight studies and the improvements lasted for at least a year.[xxxvi] Massage with stretching was also shown to reduce lower back pain intensity and increase range of motion.[xxxvii] A randomized trial of 262 subjects with chronic lower back pain confirmed the benefits of massage to those from 20 to 70 years old.[xxxviii]

9. Headaches

In a comparison study of the drug Amitriptyline, massage significantly benefitted those who experienced chronic tension-type headaches (CTTHs) by decreasing pain intensity and lowering tissue hardness.[xxxix] CTTH sufferers receiving neck/shoulder massages also lowered headache frequency and duration.[xl]

10. Stress

In a review of 21 studies, massage increased relaxation in seniors.[xli] Touch managed dementia symptoms including restlessness and stress.[xlii] In healthy adults, research showed that massage decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and stress; improved muscle tension and emotional state;[xliii],[xliv] and increased oxygen exchange (lower chance of fatigue, restlessness, shortness of breath, high blood pressure) and relaxation.[xlv]

Massage Benefits

Massage has scientifically proven benefits for healthy adults to de-stress and improves depression, cancer, immunity, knee/back problems, insomnia, and headaches for those afflicted with these conditions. Autistic children and premature infants also benefit from massage treatments. For more information about the wide-ranging benefits of massage, please see the Massage/Therapeutic Touch Research Database.

Dr. Diane Fulton is Emeritus Professor at Clayton State University. She holds Ph.D./MBA in Business (University of Tennessee – Knoxville) and B.S. with Math/Secondary Education majors (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee).  She authored 10 books, over 50 articles, and is now writing children’s books about the body, mindfulness, and cross-cultural awareness. This article was republished from