Massage Therapy: What You Need To Know

What is massage therapy used for?

Massage services are used to help manage a health condition or enhance wellness. It involves manipulating the soft tissues of the body. Massage has been practiced in most cultures, both Eastern and Western, throughout human history, and was one of the earliest tools that people used to try to relieve pain.

What are the different types of massage?

The term “massage therapy” includes many techniques. The most common form of massage therapy in Western countries is called Swedish or classical massage; it is the core of most massage training programs. Other styles include sports massage, clinical massage to accomplish specific goals such as releasing muscle spasms, and massage traditions derived from Eastern cultures, such as Shiatsu and Tuina.

Can massage help cancer patients?

With appropriate precautions, massage therapy can be part of supportive care for cancer patients who would like to try it; however, the evidence that it can relieve pain and anxiety is not strong.

  • Massage therapy, with or without aromatherapy (the use of essential oils) has been used to attempt to relieve pain, anxiety, and other symptoms in people with cancer. A 2016 evaluation of 19 studies (more than 1,200 participants) of massage for cancer patients found some evidence that massage might help with pain and anxiety, but the quality of the evidence was very low (because most studies were small and some may have been biased), and findings were not consistent.
  • Clinical practice guidelines (guidance for health care providers) for the care of breast cancer patients include massage as one of several approaches that may be helpful for stress reduction, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and quality of life. Clinical practice guidelines for the care of lung cancer patients suggest that massage therapy could be added as part of supportive care in patients whose anxiety or pain is not adequately controlled by usual care.
  • Massage therapists may need to modify their usual techniques when working with cancer patients; for example, they may have to use less pressure than usual in areas that are sensitive because of cancer or cancer treatments.

Can massage be helpful for fibromyalgia symptoms?

Massage therapy may be helpful for some fibromyalgia symptoms if it’s continued for long enough.

  • A 2014 evaluation of 9 studies (404 total participants) concluded that massage therapy, if continued for at least 5 weeks, improved pain, anxiety, and depression in people with fibromyalgia but did not have an effect on sleep disturbance.
  • A 2015 evaluation of 10 studies (478 total participants) compared the effects of different kinds of massage therapy and found that most styles of massage had beneficial effects on quality of life in people with fibromyalgia. Swedish massage may be an exception; 2 studies of this type of massage (56 total participants) did not show benefits.

What are the risks of massage therapy?

The risk of harmful effects from massage therapy appears to be low. However, there have been rare reports of serious side effects, such as a blood clot, nerve injury, or bone fracture. Some of the reported cases have involved vigorous types of massage, such as deep tissue massage, or patients who might be at increased risk of injury, such as elderly people.

What are the requirements to become a massage therapist?

In states that regulate massage therapy (45 states and the District of Columbia), therapists must get a license or certification before practicing massage. State regulations typically require graduation from an approved program and passing an examination.

Some massage therapists obtain certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. To do this, they must meet specific educational requirements, undergo a background check, and pass an examination.

 

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