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Massage Therapy


Denise Millstine

, MD, Mayo Clinic

Last full review/revision Feb 2019| Content last modified Feb 2019
Click here for the Professional Version

In massage therapy (a manipulative and body-based practice), body tissues are manipulated to reduce pain, relieve muscle tension, and reduce stress. Massage therapy involves a variety of light-touch and deep-touch techniques, from stroking and kneading (as used in Swedish massage) to applying pressure to specific points (as used in Shiatsu, acupressure, and neuromuscular massage). (See also Overview of Integrative, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine.)

Medicinal uses

Massage therapists help the musculoskeletal and nervous systems of the body. Other healing effects of massage include the benefits of relaxation and human touch, basic needs that are unmet in the lives of many people. The therapeutic value of massage for many musculoskeletal symptoms is widely accepted. Massage has been shown to help or relieve symptoms in the following:

  • Headaches

  • Pain (for example, postoperative, chronic, musculoskeletal, end-of-life care, pelvic, labor, burns, in dementia)

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Mood disorders (for example, anxiety, depression)

  • Mood and symptoms in people with cancer (for example, pain, fatigue, stress, anxiety, lymphatic drainage)

  • Symptoms in preterm infants (for example, to promote sleep, growth and weight gain, and digestive health)

  • HIV/AIDS (for example, quality of life, stress, immune function)

Possible side effects

Precautions for massage therapy and other therapies that involve manipulation of tissues include the following:

  • Minor discomfort or temporary worsening of symptoms

  • Massage can cause bruising and bleeding in people at risk.

  • Pressure should not be directly put on bones affected by osteoporosis or cancer that has spread to the bones (metastatic cancer).

More Information about Massage Therapy

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