The Effectiveness of Massage Therapy
Massage can be defined as 'manual soft tissue manipulation, and includes holding, causing movement, and/or applying pressure to the body."
Massage therapy is the practice of massage by accredited professionals to achieve positive health and well-being (physical, functional, and psychological outcomes) in clients.
Although massage therapy is recommended and administered to various extents by healthcare practitioners and patients alike, research evidence is required to advocate massage therapy effectively and safely.
In Australia, a recent national survey showed that 70% of respondents used one of 17 forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), with 45% of respondents having visited a CAM practitioner in the preceding year.
CAM use in the United States of America appear to be similar to Australia. Among the numerous forms of CAM surveyed, massage therapy ranked as one of the most commonly used.
The Effectiveness of Massage Therapy (TEMT) report, in collating research, comprised a review of 740 existing Australian and international, academic research papers, published between 1978 and 2008. It is designed to be a reference tool for those interested in the available evidence about the effectiveness of massage therapy. It also identifies recommendations for clinical practice and highlights research gaps.
The research reviewed includes systematic reviews, randomised controlled trials, comparative studies, case-series/studies and cross-sectional studies covering a range of massage therapy techniques. These include acupressure, bowen therapy, lymphatic drainage, myofascial release, reflexology, rolfing, shiatsu, Swedish massage, sports massage, infant massage, tuina and trigger point therapies/modalities.
Who should read this report?
Practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine;
GPs and allied health professionals; and
Researchers in the area of health, complementary and alternative medicine.
More than 740 studies were reviewed as part of this research. Specifically, the following information was examined:
number of included studies (where stated or reported)
type of massage (if stated)
findings and/or recommendations
The following analysis was then applied to categorise included systematic reviews according to their clinical significance:
Databases searched in this review
Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) Reviews
Pubmed (incorporating Medline)
Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL)
Allied and Complementary Medicine (AMED)
Most common populations studied
Musculoskeletal, oncology combined with palliative care, paediatrics, sports, neurology, obstetrics, surgery, geriatrics, mental health and physiology represented the most common populations studied.
Conclusions and Key Findings
A growing body of research supports massage therapy as being an evidence-based therapeutic modality, in particular:
Acupressure Management of Nausea and Vomiting: There is strong evidence supporting acupressure management of nausea and vomiting
Managing anxiety, stress and promoting relaxation: Multiple studies provided good evidence supporting the effectiveness of massage therapy in managing anxiety, stress and promoting relaxation.
Subacute and chronic low back pain: Seven reviews were in unison concluding that massage therapy for subacute and chronic low back pain to be more effective than placebo.
Pain reduction, quality of life, improved sleep, reduced depressive symptoms: Positive outcomes reported following massage therapy include pain reduction, better quality of life, improved sleep and function as well as reduced depressive symptoms.
Infant distress, newborn growth, mother-infant interaction, post-natal depression: Studies into the benefits of massage therapy for maternal and infant care reported a reduction in infant distress, significant newborn growth and development, improved mother-infant interaction and reduced symptoms of post-natal depression.
Massage Therapy: A safe and effective treatment option
The TEMT report reinforces that: There is consistent and conclusive evidence that massage therapy is safe. However, the importance of qualified massage therapists adhering to appropriate scopes of practice, safety guidelines and ethical procedures is stressed.
There is a growing evidence base to aid clinicians in recommending massage as an evidence-based therapeutic modality.
Clinicians are encouraged to collaborate with professional massage practitioners for best practice management of patients who may benefit from massage therapy.
More research required...
-There is a need for more, higher quality research studies and controlled trials backed by strong methodology in the field of massage therapy. In particular to refine the current evidence base that suggest benefits of massage therapy for infants, depression and post-natal depression, labour pain, fibromyalgia, premenstrual syndrome, urinary symptoms in multiple sclerosis, myofascial pain and knee osteoarthritis'.
This report was commissioned by The Australian Association of Massage Therapists (AAMT), first published in October 2011. This is an overview of the key findings. The full report can be downloaded at www.aamt.com.au