Peer-reviewed medical research has shown that the benefits of massage include pain relief, reduced trait anxiety and depression, and temporarily reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and state of anxiety. Additional testing has shown an immediate increase and expedited recovery periods for muscle performance. Theories behind what massage might do include blocking nociception (gate control theory), activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which may stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin, preventing fibrosisor scar tissue, increasing the flow of lymph, and improving sleep, but such effects are yet to be supported by well-designed clinical studies.
Massage is hindered from reaching the gold standard of scientific research, which includes placebo controlled and double blind clinical trials. Developing a “sham” manual therapy for massage would be difficult since even light touch massage could not be assumed to be completely devoid of effects on the subject. It would also be difficult to find a subject that would not notice that they were getting less of a massage, and it would be impossible to blind the therapist. Massage can employ randomized controlled trials, which are published in peer reviewed medical journals. This type of study could increase the credibility of the profession because it displays that purported therapeutic effects are reproducible.
Pain relief: Relief from pain due to musculoskeletal injuries and other causes is cited as a major benefit of massage. Acupressure or pressure point massage may be more beneficial than classic Swedish massage in relieving back pain.
State anxiety: Massage has been shown to reduce state anxiety, a transient measure of anxiety in a given situation.
Blood pressure and heart rate: Massage has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate.
Trait anxiety: Massage has been shown to reduce trait anxiety, a person’s general susceptibility to anxiety.
Depression: Massage has been shown to reduce sub clinical depression.