Massage Therapy: What You Should Know (2023)

Cultures around the world have used massage since ancient times. It is one of the oldest techniques humans have used to treat pain. Today, therapeutic massage treats stress,anguishand certain health conditions.

There are many different types of massage therapy, each with its own unique approach and benefits. During massage therapy, the massage therapist will use their hands, fingers, elbows, forearms or a massage device to manipulate the body.soft fabric(muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia).The process releases tension and can alleviate some symptoms and heal muscle damage.

This article explains the benefits, types, side effects and costs of massage therapy.

Massage Therapy: What You Should Know (1)

Health benefits of massage therapy

People use massage therapy for pain, muscle injuries and supportive therapy for some health issues. The general benefits of massage can include:

  • relievesmuscle tension
  • promote bettercirculation
  • PrepareImmunity
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Increases relaxation
  • Faster cure ofsoft tissue injuries
  • Reduces pregnancy pain and swelling
  • relievesfibromyalgiasymptoms
  • Reducecancer pain
  • relievescold
  • improves sleep

Research supports massage therapy for back, neck, and shoulder pain. However, most studies show that it is more useful for acute pain and less effective for treating chronic pain.

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types of massage

Depending on your situation, you may benefit from several different types of massage therapy. Some styles focus on general relaxation and relieving muscle tension, while others focus more specifically on injured soft tissue. Often, massage therapists use various techniques as needed.

swedish massage

Swedish massage, also called “classical massage”, is the most popular massage technique in the world. He uses a variety of massage styles including:

  • long sliding strokes
  • kneading muscles
  • lift the muscles
  • playing
  • Friction
  • Vibration or shaking

Massage movements move from the extremities inward towards the heart. Key benefits of this massage style include:

  • Relaxation
  • Scar tissue healing
  • improved circulation

Studies have confirmed some benefits of Swedish massage. For example, in a 2017 quasi-experimental study, 48 intensive care unit (ICU) patients received a 30-minute Swedish massage. Immediately after and 30 minutes later, they showed a reduction in anxiety and improvementVital signs.

Additionally, 16 participants from a 2013 randomized controlled trialhigh pressurewas evaluated to see whether Swedish massage could lower blood pressure. Half of the participants received an hour of Swedish massage a week for four weeks, while the control group received rest at the same intervals.

After the experiment, rest and massage reduced blood pressure and heart rate. However, Swedish massage had a more significant and lasting effect.

deep tissue massage

As the name suggests, deep tissue massage focuses on the deeper muscles and soft tissues. Although it uses virtually the same style of strokes and motions as Swedish massage, it is less relaxing and can sometimes be uncomfortable or painful. The purpose of this type of massage is to offer relief from the pain ofbuttonor other pain and injuries related to soft tissues.

Some studies support deep tissue massage for pain relief, especially in the short term. For example, in a 2019 randomized clinical trial, researchers placed 619 adults with neck pain into one of four groups: deep tissue massage, exercise, exercise and massage, or advice to stay active.

After one year, there were no clinically significant changes in pain. However, pain intensity in the massage and combination groups improved in the short term (seven and 12 weeks) compared to the counseling group.

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Click Play to learn more about deep tissue massage

This video has been clinically reviewed byCasey Gallagher, MD.

sports massage

Athletes usually receivesports massageto aid performance or rehabilitation from a sport-related injury. This type of massage focuses on specific muscle groups relevant to the athlete's sport.

Some studies support the use of sports massage in athletes. For example, a 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis included 29 randomized trials that measured the effect of massage on sport performance and recovery. Although the researchers found no evidence that sports massage directly improved performance, it did improve flexibility and delay the onset of muscle soreness.

Benefits of receiving a physical therapy massage

Hot stone massage

A hot stone massage uses unique stones that are heated and placed on your body. Additionally, a massage therapist can hold the stones while using a variety of massage styles. This style of massage typically promotes relaxation.

Some studies have found the benefits of hot stones for this purpose. For example, in a 2019 randomized clinical trial, 60 people on maintenance treatmenthemodialysis(kidney diseasetreatment where the blood is filtered through a machine) were assigned to a hot stone massage or control group.

The massage group received massage three times a week for four weeks. At the end of the study, participants who received massage showed significant improvements in sleep quality compared to the control group.

aromatherapy massage

The aromatherapy massage incorporates aromas usingessencial oils. The massage therapist alternates between gentle and firm pressure while using essential oils that have been diluted with a carrier oil to move quickly across the skin.

This type of massage promotes relaxation and pain relief. Some studies support this type of massage for these purposes. For example, in a 2017 randomized controlled trial, 46 people withneuropathic pain(a nerve dysfunction) were placed in a massage or control group.

The massage group received aromatherapy massage three times a week for four weeks, while the control group received routine treatment. The massage group's pain scores significantly decreased compared to the control group and their quality of life improved.

If you have a fragrance sensitivity or known fragrance allergy, avoid an aromatherapy massage.

pregnancy massage

EMpregnancy massage, also called prenatal massage, can help people with pregnancy discomforts. Benefits of pregnancy massage include:

  • Reduces back and leg pain
  • Reduction of stress and anxiety
  • improving mood
  • improving sleep

The massage style your therapist will use will likely be one or more styles of Swedish massage, although they may incorporate others to suit your situation.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) considers massage during pregnancy a safe choice that promotes relaxation and circulation.However, it's always best to consult a healthcare professional to assess your specific situation before scheduling one to be sure it's safe for your situation.

ACOG recommends that you lie on your side rather than on your stomach unless the table has a cutout for your stomach. Look for a massage therapist who is trained to work with pregnant bodies, and be sure to let them know you are pregnant.


Reflexology stimulates the reflex maps in the hands, feet and ears. A reflexologist uses the fingers and thumbs to apply pressure to an area away from the reflex point to energize other parts of the body.

Othe benefits of reflexologyinclude:

  • Reduces stress
  • Reduces pain
  • Reduces the need for pain relievers
  • Stimulates endorphins
  • Speeds up recovery

While there is little research to support it, people have anecdotally experienced positive benefits from the therapy. Since there is little risk, it is widely accepted.


Different types of massage treat different things, and some are backed by more research than others. Swedish (or classical) massage is the most common.

Side effects and risks

Therapeutic massage is generally safe. But rarely, there can be some risks associated with it, including:

  • blood clots
  • nerve damage
  • Broken bones

Due to the vigorous nature of the therapy, deep tissue massage may pose a greater risk. In addition, the elderly, who generally have greater health risks, may be more susceptible.


The cost of massage therapy varies depending on the massage therapist you choose and your geographic location. However, the national average price is US$60 per one-hour session.

Sometimes, but not always, massage therapy is covered by insurance. Usually you need a doctor or doctorreferenceto receive insurance benefits. Also, if you were injured at work, employment insurance may pay for your massage.Check with your insurance or benefits plan to be sure.

As costs can vary greatly, research and compare prices and staff training. Referrals from people you know can also help you find someone reputable and approachable.


People use massage therapy for relaxation, pain management, and injury recovery. There are many types of massage therapy including Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, sports massage, prenatal massage, reflexology and aromatherapy massage. Each has unique benefits, and research supports some types more than others. The risk associated with massage is small, but if you are at high risk for bone, nerve, or circulatory problems, it may be a good idea to see a doctor first.

A Word from Verywell

If you feel stressed or have tense muscles, massage can be an excellent option to consider. Ask friends, colleagues, and family for referrals to reputable massage therapists in your area, and be sure to inform your massage therapists of any health risks you may have. Also, tell them what makes you comfortable. For example, tell them what kind of pressure you prefer and let them know if anything hurts.

Common questions

  • Who offers massage therapy?

    A massage therapist gives a massage. Most states regulate the industry and therapists must be licensed or certified before practicing.

  • How often should you get a massage?

    How often you get a massage is a personal decision that depends on many factors, including the type of massage and your budget. Your massage therapist can recommend a frequency. Some people like weekly, fortnightly or monthly massages.

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