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Massage Therapy for Health Purposes: What You Need To Know

On this page:

What’s the Bottom Line?

How much do we know about massage?

A lot of research on the effects of massage therapy has been carried out.

What do we know about the effectiveness of massage?

While often preliminary or conflicting, there is scientific evidence that massage may help with back pain and may improve quality of life for people with depression, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.

What do we know about the safety of massage?

Massage therapy appears to have few risks if it is used appropriately and provided by a trained massage professional.

What Is Massage Therapy?

The term “massage therapy” includes many techniques, and the type of massage given usually depends on your needs and physical condition.

More information

What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Massage

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.

Researchers have studied the effects of massage for many conditions. Some that they have studied more extensively are the following:

Pain

Cancer

Mental health

Fibromyalgia

Headaches

HIV/AIDS

Infant care

Other Conditions

What the Science Says About the Safety and Side Effects of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy appears to have few risks when performed by a trained practitioner. However, massage therapists should take some precautions with certain health conditions.

More information

NCCAM-Funded Research

Recent NCCAM-sponsored studies have been investigating the effects of massage on a variety of conditions.

More about NCCAM-funded massage research

Training, Licensing, and Certification

In the United States, 44 states and the District of Columbia regulate massage therapists. Cities, counties, or other local governments also may regulate massage. Training standards and requirements for massage therapists vary greatly by state and locality.

More information

More to Consider

  • Do not use massage therapy to replace conventional care or to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.
  • If you have a medical condition and are unsure whether massage therapy would be appropriate for you, discuss your concerns with your health care provider, who may also be able to help you select a massage therapist.
  • Ask about the training, experience, and credentials of the massage therapist you are considering. Also ask about the number of treatments that might be needed, the cost, and insurance coverage.
  • For more tips on finding a complementary health practitioner, such as a massage therapist, see the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s (NCCAM) Web page How To Find a Complementary Health Practitioner.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about complementary health approaches, see NCCAM’s Time to Talk campaign.

For More Information

NCCAM Clearinghouse

The NCCAM Clearinghouse provides information on NCCAM and complementary health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

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PubMed®

A service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals.

MedlinePlus

To provide resources that help answer health questions, MedlinePlus (a service of the National Library of Medicine) brings together authoritative information from the National Institutes of Health as well as other Government agencies and health-related organizations.

Information on massage therapy

NIH Clinical Research Trials and You

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a Web site, NIH Clinical Research Trials and You, to help people learn about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate. The site includes questions and answers about clinical trials, guidance on how to find clinical trials through ClinicalTrials.gov and other resources, and stories about the personal experiences of clinical trial participants. Clinical trials are necessary to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.

The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews is a collection of evidence-based reviews produced by the Cochrane Library, an international nonprofit organization. The reviews summarize the results of clinical trials on health care interventions. Summaries are free; full-text reviews are by subscription only.

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Key References

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Acknowledgments

NCCAM thanks the following people for their technical expertise and review of the content update of this publication: Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Touch Research Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine; Andrea Furlan, M.D., Ph.D., Institute for Work & Health; Karen Sherman, Ph.D., M.P.H., Group Health Research Institute; Partap Khalsa, D.C., Ph.D., and John (Jack) Killen, Jr., M.D., NCCAM.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCAM has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCAM.

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NCCAM Pub No.: 
D327
Date Created: 
September 2006
Last Updated: 
February 2014