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Scientific Literature Review on Massage Therapy

Scientifically proven benefits of massage therapy

The Réseau des massothérapeutes professionnels du Québec believes that massage therapists play a crucial role in the future of health care in the province. If massage therapy were to be recognized as an integral part of the Quebec health care system, it would first require improved standards of practice, enriched training, and a clear scope of the practice. In order to achieve this, our profession must conduct the necessary research and establish appropriate standards of practice.

Here, we present an important body of scientific evidence and patient testimonials regarding the benefits of massage therapy in relieving the symptoms of a range of medical conditions, as documented in a variety of scientific publications.

Massage Therapy and Scientific Research: Summary of Scientific Literature

Massage therapy is recommended by both health care professionals and patients. In order for massage therapy to be recognized as a safe and effective practice, it is essential that the health benefits be demonstrated through scientific research.

The Réseau des massothérapeutes professionnels du Québec entrusted Dr. Pierre Arsenault with the mandate to conduct a review of scientific literature in order to collate texts and present evidence that massage therapy can alleviate the symptoms of a range of medical conditions. In presenting Dr. Arsenault’s review, we are pleased to be able to illustrate the many health benefits of massage therapy and offer our members a scientific reference guide for their practice, all while publicly confirming that choosing massage therapy as an alternative treatment is not harmful to patients.

Dr. Arsenault’s research includes systematic reviews, randomized clinical trials, and comparative and transversal case studies covering the widest possible range of schools of thought and practice. We are confident that by presenting this study, we are providing our members, as well as the massage therapy community as a whole, with basic knowledge from which it is possible to develop an evidence-based practice. The full version of the study (in French only) is available; however, we thought it would be helpful to summarize its main findings here:

Massage therapy is recommended by both health care professionals and patients. In order for massage therapy to be recognized as a safe and effective practice, it is essential that the health benefits be demonstrated through scientific research.

Musculoskeletal Pain

Massage therapy is cited as a treatment option for musculoskeletal pain in a 2006 study conducted by Lewis et Johnson. After having discovered a link between improved patient condition and massage therapy sessions, these British researchers concluded that massage therapy was more effective than dummy treatments and laser treatments for treating this type of pain.


Chronic Fatigue


The positive effects of massage therapy interventions in treating chronic fatigue and a precise range of symptoms related to the condition are demonstrated here in two distinct studies conducted by Porter, Jason et coll. (2010) et coll.Alraek, Myeong et coll. (2011).


Stress

The benefits of massage therapy in treating symptoms of stress are often cited by both practitioners and patients. Garner, Phillips et coll. (2008) found that massage therapy had “immediate beneficial effects on anxiety-related measures” and was “a useful tool for reducing stress and aggression”.


Migraine

Massage therapy has been proven to be beneficial in treating migraines and reducing their frequency and intensity. This is demonstrated by Chaibi, Tuchin et coll. (2011) in the case of 45-minute treatments performed weekly for the duration of six weeks, focused on neuromuscular areas and stress points in the back, neck, and shoulders.


Chronic Pain

In treating chronic pain, it is possible to impart short- and long-term benefits through massage therapy. Kalichman (2010) states that the massage should be painless and that its intensity should gradually increase from session to session, which should occur at least once or twice a week depending on the patient’s symptoms.


Lumbar pain

Massage therapy is a particularly popular option among people suffering from lumbar pain. Cherkin et coll. (2001)demonstrated that massage therapy is an effective treatment option in comparison with active treatments like relaxation, particularly in the short term for acute pain relief.


Neck and Shoulder Pain

Many studies provide evidence of the significant benefits of massage therapy in the treatment of neck and shoulder pain (Kong, Zhan et coll., 2013). More precisely, massage therapy can reduce pain and tenderness and improve the range of motion in the case of subacute and chronic pain (Brosseau et coll., 2012).


Inflammation and Musculoskeletal Structures

Massage relieves pain in strained muscles by transmitting anti-inflammatory signals to the muscle cells (Crane, Ogborn et coll., 2012). Therefore, it is a particularly effective treatment for clients who regularly participate in sports or other physical activities.


Mental Health and Depressive Disorder

Massage therapy has proved to be an increasingly important choice of treatment for depression Coelho et coll. (2008). There is a body of evidence that demonstrates, more specifically, its effectiveness in treating depression in pregnant women (Bell, 2008) and women who have breast cancer (Krohn et coll., 2010).

Conclusion

There clearly exists an important body of evidence in the clinical community that attests to the benefits of massage therapy. This reinforces the substantial body of “anecdotal” evidence and positive patient testimonials with which massage therapists will be familiar. Furthermore, Dr. Arsenault’s literature review demonstrates the total lack of evidence that massage therapy can potentially harm patients.

We hope that this condensed version will help our members clarify the benefits of massage therapy and better explain these to their clients and the general public. As for the full version, it will eventually serve you as a useful reference tool for your practice.

Martin Vallée
President and Chief Executive Office

Read the full version of the scientific literature review (in French only)