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For thousands of years & across many cultures, massage has been used to reduce stress, encourage relaxation, & relieve a range of ailments, from arthritis & asthma to insomnia & sports injuries.

Swedish Massage Because therapeutic massage hasn't been the subject of many controlled studies, its benefits are largely unproven. But few would deny that a massage can make us feel better, both mentally and physically. This hands-on approach to the care of patients is now practiced in many hospitals, offered by some health maintenance organizations, and covered by certain insurers.

Most Western massage is based on Swedish massage, introduced in the United States in the early 19th century. Which strokes are emphasized depends on the type of massage and its purpose.


         Deep-tissue massage uses slow strokes and fingertip pressure to relieve muscle "knots" that result from chronic tension and to improve blood and lymph circulation.

         Myofascial release applies gentle, stretching strokes to areas above injured connective tissue (myofascia) to relieve postural or alignment problems.

         Sports massage employs stretches and movements against resistance to increase range of motion and to reduce injury.


Talcum powder or oils are often used to help the practitioner's hands move smoothly over the body.

Eastern Techniques

Other popular types of massage have their roots in Eastern medicine and philosophy. The basis of Shiatsu and acupressure is the Chinese system of 12 major channels (meridians) through which life-force energy (qi) is said to flow. The idea is that disease results from blockages of qi. Shiatsu and acupressure practitioners apply pressure with their fingertips, and acupuncturists insert needles at specific points along the channels to release qi. In reflexology, specific zones on the hands, feet, or ears are thought to correspond, or reflex, to certain internal organs.

Studies have shown the efficacy of these approaches, but the concept of qi is not part of Western medicine and science.

Recent Findings

Recent research suggests several benefits of massage.

  • Back pain. A Canadian study of low back pain compared massage therapy with soft-tissue manipulation, exercise, and a sham laser-therapy. Subjects who received massage therapy had less pain and better physical function than those receiving other forms of treatment. Therapeutic massage has also been found to provide better long-lasting relief than acupuncture.
  • Pain, nausea, and anxiety. An Australian study showed that nightly 10-minute foot massages can lessen pain and nausea in hospitalized cancer patients. Research has also found that 30-minute reflexology sessions reduced anxiety in patients hospitalized for breast and lung cancer. Additionally, a randomized study of massage therapy showed that it relieves the symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD).
  • Sleep. In a controlled study, older institutionalized patients given acupressure slept better than those in sham acupressure or control groups.
  • Lymphedema. Breast-cancer survivors with lymphedema (painful swelling due to the buildup of fluid in the arm) often get relief through lymphatic massage. This technique should be performed only by a massage therapist trained in the procedure and supervised by a woman's surgeon.


In the hands of a skilled practitioner, massage can be pleasurable and beneficial. But serious health problems should never be treated solely with massage. Sometimes, massage should be avoided altogether. In a patient with deep venous thrombosis, massage might increase the risk that a clot will break loose and block an artery. Nor is massage recommended for anyone with an open wound, a rash, or an acute infection.

If you are pregnant or if you have cancer, heart or kidney problems, rheumatoid arthritis, numb areas on your body, incompletely healed scar tissue, or skin grafts, you should consult a physician before having a massage.

Choosing a massage therapist



Currently, 30 states regulate massage therapy and issue licenses. There is no national license or standard, but two professional organizations have established their own nationwide criteria for massage therapists:



American Massage Therapy Association
(847) 864-0123

National Certification Board for Therapeutic
Massage and Bodywork
(703) 610-9015



Massage Terms

         Effleurage. Gliding strokes using hands or fists to relax soft tissue and encourage lymph drainage.

         Deep friction. Thumb or fingertip pressure, especially where two types of tissue (such as bone and muscle) come together.

         Petrissage. Kneading motions across specific muscles to ease muscular tension.

         Tapotement. Percussive strokes with the edge of the hand, fingers, or cupped palms to stimulate local circulation.

some of the information on this page was found at Ladies Home Journal's website via From Harvard Women's Health Watch. Copyright 2003 by President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.

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