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Massage Therapy

What is Massage Therapy?

Image of hands massaging a backMassage is as old as medicine itself. Today many variations exist; for example, classical ‘Swedish’ massage focuses on muscular structures. Other forms of massage treatment include:

  • Bowen therapy: gentle soft-tissue technique influencing the nervous system.
  • Lymphatic drainage: massaging along lymph channels to enhance lymph flow.
  • Marma massage: traditional Indian massage.
  • Myofascial release: technique reducing tension in fascia and connective tissue.
  • Relaxation massage: gentle superficial techniques.
  • Rolfing: forceful massaging where the therapist’s whole body applies pressure.
  • Sports massage: muscular techniques adapted for the needs of athletes.

While many massage therapies are based on a sound understanding of anatomy, some rely on unproven and unlikely philosophies. These more exotic forms of massage therapies include shiatsu, craniosacral therapy and reflexology (which are all discussed elsewhere in this appendix), as well as polarity massage (balancing positive and negative energy), trigger-point massage (pressurizing trigger points aimed at reducing local pain or influencing the function of distant organs) and acupressure (pressurizing, rather than needling, acupuncture points).

Massage is practised by specialist massage therapists, physiotherapists, nurses, alternative practitioners of all types and other healthcare professionals. They aim to treat both physical problems (e.g. musculoskeletal pain) and psychological conditions (e.g. anxiety or depression).

What is the Evidence?

There is encouraging evidence that massage is beneficial for some musculoskeletal problems, especially back pain, anxiety, depression and constipation. It acts, possibly, by increasing local blood flow and releasing endorphins in the brain. Adverse effects are rare.

Generalizing is problematic, but massage is probably effective for some conditions and improves wellbeing in most patients. The more exotic forms of massage are generally unlikely to offer any extra benefit.

For More Information:

This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine