Health Guide

Massage therapy

What is it?

Massage is the use of hands to stroke, rub, or knead the body. It may be done to improve the flow of blood, improve muscle tone, or to relax you.

Massage has been used for thousands of years to promote health. The Chinese, Egyptians, Indians, Greeks and Romans used massage to promote wellness and treat pain. Massage therapy is the number one alternative therapy in the United States.

There are many different types of body work that include some aspects of massage. Reflexology, ROLFING® structural integration, Hellerwork, trigger point, sports massage, manual lymph draining, osteopathy, shiatsu, and others include massage techniques. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine include massage as an important part of their systems.

Massage may promote healing by moving blood and lymph and increasing the oxygen supply. Massage relieves muscle tension, stimulates the nerves, and stretches muscle and connective tissue.

Massage may be effective for many conditions, such as stress-related insomnia and headaches, muscle and joint pain, back pain, depression, anxiety, digestive disorders, and sports injuries. Scientific studies have shown that human-immunodeficiency (HIV) babies who received massage did better than those not receiving massage. Massage may improve anxiety and cancer pain. People with asthma, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, anorexia, and diabetes can benefit from massage therapy, as can women during childbirth.

Most massages are 45 to 90 minutes. It is common to undress for a whole body massage but you may choose not to fully undress. Massage therapists will cover your body with a towel or sheet and expose only the area being massaged. Most therapists will use an oil or cream to help their hands glide over the skin.

Massage should not be performed on a person with the following conditions: skin infection, rash, unhealed wounds, post surgery, phlebitis, varicose veins, areas of bleeding, or recent fractures. Avoid massage over any known tumor or recent surgical incision. Massage of the abdomen, legs, and feet should not be given during the first three months of pregnancy.

The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) provides a list of trained massage therapists. Membership in the AMTA means that the therapist has graduated from an approved training program, holds a state license, and has passed a licensing exam. Licensing of massage therapists is currently required in 25 states.

For more information:


    1. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983.

    2. Kastner MA: Alternative Healing: The Complete A to Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA; 1993.

    3. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.

    4. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997.

    Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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