1. Massage has been practiced for thousands of years. Today, if you need or want a massage, you can choose from among 80 massage therapystyles with a wide variety of pressures, movements, and techniques. These all involve pressing, rubbing, or manipulating muscles and other soft tissues with hands and fingers. Sometimes, even forearms, elbows, or feet are used.
2. A lot of the scientific research on massage therapy is preliminary or conflicting, but much of the evidence points toward beneficial effects on pain and other symptoms associated with a number of different conditions. Much of the evidence suggests that these effects are short term and that people need to keep getting massages for the benefits to continue.
3. Scientific evidence on massage therapy is limited. Scientists are not yet certain what changes occur in the body during massage, whether they influence health, and, if so, how. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is sponsoring studies to answer these questions and identify the purposes for which massage may be most helpful.
4. Generally, people use massage for either general relaxation and wellbeing, or to address a specific complaint, such as pain or limited range of motion. Research suggests massage therapy may contribute to both goals.
5. Massage therapy may help the body in many ways. Massage can relax muscle tissue, which may lead to decreased nerve compression, increased joint space, and range of motion. This may lead to reduced pain and improved function.
Massage therapy may also improve circulation, which enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells and helps remove waste products. These circulatory effects of massage may have value in the treatment of some inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis or edema (an excessive accumulation of fluid in body tissues, which may be reduced using manual lymph drainage). Massage therapy is also thought to induce a relaxation response, which lowers the heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure; boosts the immune system; and generally decreases the physical effects of stress.