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Benefits of Massage Therapy and When Not to Get a Massage

The benefits of massage therapy include relaxation, better health and well-being (including less pain and supporting faster healing of soft-tissue injuries), and better posture and alignment.

These benefits are so important that Tiffany Field, Ph.D., founder of the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute, said in an April 6, 1998, Newsweek article that massage can help maintain overall health as much as proper diet and exercise do.

Neck massage on the back of a woman's neck.

Better Health and Well-Being

The better you feel, the more energy and passion you have to deal with the challenges of life and pursue your interests. Let's look at some of the many ways that massage therapy benefits your health and well-being.

Stress Relief

Massage reverses your body's response to negative stress by creating the relaxation response, which includes reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Research also suggests that massage reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Massage can also sharpen your body awareness, so you're more sensitive to early signs of stress and can deal with them before they become major.

Improved Movement

Massage relaxes tense muscles, helps tissue become more elastic and flexible, and increases joint range of motion, making movement easier in both daily activities and sports and recreational activities. And, because your body is less tense and more flexible, making it better able to adapt to your movements, you're less likely to injure yourself.

Less Pain and Faster Soft-Tissue Healing

Massage also helps relieve muscle aches and pains, as well as address chronic pain. A May 2016 meta-analysis looked at 67 studies and concluded the evidence showed that massage therapy, compared to no treatment, has strong support as a pain management option. Targeted massage can also help soft-tissue injuries (such as muscle pulls and strains, ligament sprains, tendonitis, and whiplash) heal faster.

Additional massage therapy benefits include:

  • Improving the function of your immune system.
  • Helping you sleep better. Sleep deprivation is a major problem and contributes to many accidents, not to mention cloudy thinking.
  • Promoting deeper and easier breathing, helping your body get more of the oxygen needed for good health.
  • Reducing anxiety, calming your mind, and relaxing you, all of which helps you think and function more clearly.

Relaxation massage is different from massage for dealing with injury, relieving chronic pain, or improving alignment. Know what you want, and choose a massage therapist who offers it.

More Benefits of Massage Therapy

Learn specific benefits of pregnancy massage to soothe some of the challenges of pregnancy, baby massage for happy, healthy infants, and massage for children.

For information about the health benefits of massage therapy for specific conditions:

Learn a little about the history of massage.

Massage Technique

With all the different types of massage available, massage technique varies a lot. For example, you have the gliding and kneading strokes of Swedish massage, the stretching of Thai massage, and the direct pressure of shiatsu. Any of these techniques can promote holistic healing.

Here are some techniques on this site, mostly for the non-professional, to get you started.

Techniques you can share with a partner:

Massage Isn't Always a Good Idea

Despite many benefits of massage therapy, sometimes massage is inappropriate. Let's look at contraindications (reasons not to receive massage).

Circulatory Contraindications

Many of the contraindications involve the circulatory system, because many massage techniques can affect circulation.

Avoid massage if you have a thrombus, embolism, or anything involving a blood clot. If you have had blood clots in the past and have risk factors for blood clots, tell your therapist, so he/she can make an informed decision about giving you massage. However, be aware that if you have an undiagnosed blood clot, massage can theoretically cause the clot to move and put you in the hospital (or worse).

If you have any condition that involves damaged blood vessels, extra caution is needed. For example, some therapists will not massage anyone with an aneurysm, while others say it depends on the location and type of aneurysm. Even so, receive only light massage only with a doctor’s written OK.

Other conditions that require caution include uncontrolled high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, advanced atherosclerosis, and advanced heart disease.


Massage may cause infection to spread, including colds and flu. However, when you are past the acute stage of cold or flu, with only a few lingering symptoms, massage is OK, though you may feel a little worse the next day.

Of course, if you have anything contagious, no massage, both to keep it from spreading in your body and to protect your massage therapist.

Changing Views

There's little research about how massage affects some medical conditions. Sometimes massage therapists play it safe to avoid potential problems for you.

Up until almost the end of the 1990s, massaging people with cancer was considered a no-no on the theory that it might cause cancer to spread. However,  research has shown that massage doesn't cause cancer to spread and that careful massage has many benefits for cancer patients. Many cancer treatment programs now include massage for stress relief. A good book on the subject is Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer by Gayle MacDonald, LMT.

Your Responsibility

The important thing for you to do is to give your massage therapist an accurate and complete health history, so that he/she can make an informed decision about giving you massage.

If you want technical and detailed information about the effects of massage and contraindications, see Ruth Werner’s A Massage Therapist's Guide to Pathology.

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Photo Credit: Ryan Hoyme