Health Tips: Massage Therapy: What You Knead to Know

Many people associate massages with vacations or spas, and consider them something of a luxury. But research is beginning to suggest this ancient form of hands-on healing may be more than an indulgence—it may actually improve your health.

Some common reasons for getting a massage are to relieve pain, heal sports injuries, reduce stress, relax, ease anxiety or depression, and aid general wellness. Researchers are actively trying to understand exactly how massage works, how much is best, and how it might help with specific health conditions.

“Massage therapy has been noted to relax the nervous system by slowing heart rate and blood pressure. Stress and pain hormones are also decreased by massage, reducing pain and enhancing immune function,” says Tiffany Field, PhD, who heads a touch research institute at the University of Miami Medical School.

A recent NIH-supported study found that an hour-long “dose” of Swedish massage therapy once a week was optimal for knee pain from osteoarthritis, especially when practical matters like time, labor, and convenience were considered. Other research suggests that massage therapy is effective in reducing and managing chronic low-back pain, which affects millions of Americans.