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Does Massage Therapy Really Work_ Here's what the newest medical studies are saying...

Does massage therapy really work? The newest scientific research on Massage Therapy

Meghan Krupka

Meghan Krupka, LMT talks about scientific research on massage therapy & the studies that show how it can help you live pain-free.

Massage therapy and other holistic health care practices are gaining traction in health care. As they become more popular, so too does the push to support the observed benefits of these practices with scientific research on massage therapy. 

When it comes to the human body, things get complicated and murky pretty quickly. We know a lot about the body. But there is likely much more about its workings and operations that we have yet to uncover. There has long been a large and ever-growing body of empirical and anecdotal evidence in support of massage therapy. Now, massage therapists are looking for these results to be backed by hard science. 

The use of precise massage therapy protocols to measure and show best results are gaining greater interest. We now have a wave of small-scale studies that examine massage therapy in highly specific contexts. The scientific research on massage therapy has begun!

Massage therapy organizations such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) are working on getting massage therapy accepted as a standard form of health care (hello, insurance companies, we see you…). Getting massage therapy to be covered by insurance the same as other practices will largely depend on what science has to say about it.  

Thankfully, the current scientific research on massage therapy is showing that it can be beneficial for multiple issues. Let’s see what the current research has to say about the most sought after reasons for massage!

Chronic and long term pain cases

People in pain are looking past popping pills and sustained rest for a longer-term solution. Especially one that does not have an endless list of precautions and unwanted side effects. The far reaching benefits of touch, while often noted as positive, are finally being more methodically quantified and qualified. Massage therapy has been strongly recommended for populations with chronic pain, with cancer and with post-surgical pain.

A very recent and comprehensive meta study reviewed literature for use of massage therapy in managing musculoskeletal pain. The scientific research on massage therapy found that massage is the preferred modality for managing this pain. An additional, earlier literature review looked at massage therapy in more specific pain disorders: lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), carpal tunnel and plantar fasciitis. The review found that myofascial release therapy was effective in treating all three!

In the last several years, massage therapy has also been promoted by larger bodies such as the AMTA as a viable option for addressing the national opioid crisis. The Joint Commission, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving public health care, has updated their standards for non-pharmacologic strategies for pain to include massage therapy. 

While massage therapy used to be considered largely a luxury, it is now becoming viewed as a legitimate treatment and pain management option. It’s about time!

Athletic Performance

It is no wonder that athletes and populations placing high physical demands on their bodies have sought out massage therapy. There is ample research on the benefits of massage on reducing muscle soreness, reducing fatigue, improving muscle recovery and increasing physical performance. Small-scale, short term studies have largely supported these conclusions. 

Two recent examinations of specific athletic populations have yielded positive results for massage therapy: triathletes and bodybuilders. In the study with triathletes, massage receivers were found to have lower perceived pain perceptions and lower fatigue post-race. For bodybuilders, a higher recovery rate was found post massage based on the examination of six variables. 

Massage therapy as an immediate post-exercise recovery tool remains a common thread for many professional athletes. 

Currently, answering the question, “did massage therapy reduce post-event fatigue?” is easier than, “did this athlete perform better because of regular massage therapy sessions?” Nevertheless, interest in the overlap between massage therapy and enhanced or optimized performance is making its way into more scientific research on massage therapy studies

R&R and Stress Reduction

Massage therapy has historically been viewed as an indulgence. High stress work environments that are now typical of our culture are flipping this notion around. In response, more people are seeking out massage therapy as a form of stress reduction and relaxation. The effect of massage on the autonomic nervous system is perhaps the most consistent and well-known aspect. 

The current societal emphasis on self care is removing old stigmas against massage being an extravagance. Studies are showing a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” system) and the decrease in cortisol (stress hormone). These studies support the notion of massage therapy as a regular form of self care. 

Sleep quality and its improvement through massage therapy have also been examined. Massage therapy has shown positive benefits for sleep quality in treatment of diverse cases–fibromyalgia, back pain, and breast cancer. Given the importance of sleep in overall health, this correlation offers massage therapy as a promising method for reducing stress.

Just the beginning of scientific research on massage therapy 

There is certainly now a large body of research associating massage with positive health benefits. From pain management to sleep quality to muscle fatigue to mental health, massage therapy has slowly emerged as a scientifically viable treatment option. 

The research that has been done so far has created a strong backbone of science. New researchers are interested in looking at massage therapy in even more unique cases. For instance, in one particular study, clinicians studied the effects of massage therapy on academic performance and aggression reduction in young children. 

As massage therapists, we are proud that science now backs up what we’ve known for a while: that massage therapy is a fantastic and cheaper option for pain management and stress reduction when compared to surgery and pain medications. 

How we Use the Newest Science in our Sessions

At Bodyworks DW, a top rated massage therapy studio in New York NYC, our therapists stay abreast of peer-reviewed, current research. These science-backed findings are integrated into your sessions. They also help to provide insight into the pain or discomfort you are feeling. 

The best massage therapists are able to understand scientific literature as it relates to human anatomy. And be able to explain it to you in simpler language that is easy to understand. 

Bodyworks DW therapists are ready to help you find out if massage therapy could be a positive factor in your life as well. The goals of the best massage therapists in New York City are to help you achieve your personal health and life goals. If you see a Bodyworks DW massage therapist in Midtown NYC or in the Financial District, you can be confident you are receiving the highest quality care. 

Would you like to schedule a professional massage with a top rated massage therapist in New York City? In addition to our original Financial District location, you can find the best massage therapist near midtown west now too–our new studio here just recently opened! Contact Bodyworks DW today or click on the button to book online at our massage Midtown or massage Fidi studios!

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