Psychology Department

Health Psychology Home Page

Papers written by students providing scientific reviews of topics related to health and well being

Search HomeWeight LossAlternative Therapy | Supplements | Eating Disorders | Fitness | Links | Self-Assessment | About this Page |

Brenda Rydeen

Massage Therapy



An Introduction to Massage Therapy

In the past, massage therapy has carried the description of a luxury or even of a phony form of treatment, if a treatment at all. However, times change. More and more people believe in these types of alternative medicine than ever before. These new types of alternative medicine, including massage therapy, continue to change the medical field more and more. Many sports utilize it, including the Olympics. The general purpose of massage therapy includes the promotion of wellness and a general good, healthy feeling. This purpose is achieved through the many benefits massage therapy can provide on physical, mental and emotional levels.

History of Massage Therapy Around the World

Massage remains a fairly new type of alternative medicine in this country. It enjoyed its prime time before it began to dwindle in the early 1900s. However, national health insurance covers massage therapy in Germany. In addition, massage wards are present in the hospitals, some even covering two floors in China. New technology in this country prevented the development of massage therapy. It could never have been as big as in Europe with the new pharmaceuticals and surgeries available in the United States. Many of the masseuses from the past have now started the field of physical therapy. For these reasons, many Americans do not realize the benefits of massage therapy (

What is Massage Therapy and What Does it Do?

Massage is defined in Webster’s dictionary as, "a body rub given to improve circulation and relax muscles." It can relax the muscles, restore balance in the body and relieve pain. Massage therapy involves the acts of: rolling, pressing , kneading and rubbing ( These acts create a feeling of complete relaxation. It treats minor medical issues as well. However, a few of the main purposes of massage therapy involve relaxation and less muscle tension. Furthermore, the central idea behind massage therapy involves the desire of wellness and a general good, healthy feeling. The techniques used to achieve these goals can allow the body to heal faster. The massage increases circulation to the injured areas. Massage does possess many benefits, but it still remains an alternative medicine. Most importantly, massage therapy cannot replace medical treatment (,2,6).

Benefits of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy benefits the body on physical, mental and emotional levels.


First, the physical level of the body benefits from the massage. The nervous system relaxes and stress levels decrease. Muscle spasms and tensions release, deeper breathing occurs, blood pressure reduces, the skin becomes nourished, and levels of lactic acid decrease. The immune system strengthens and diseases are prevented through massage therapy ( Massage Therapy also increases the circulation of blood. If the muscles are too tense, circulation often slows, which decreases the amount of nutrients in the body and slows the excretion of toxins and wastes. This impaired circulation causes illness, a less rapid healing process, and problems involving the structure and function of the body. Next, an improvement in the lymphatic fluid occurs. Massage therapy can aid the lymphatic system to excrete wastes when injured. Next, massage therapy aids the body in the removal of toxic by-products. Massage therapy helps release toxins better from the body. Next, massage therapy creates greater relaxation, improving the physiology and psychology of the body. Next, the massage can help with movement, flexibility and tension throughout the body. Next, massage therapy enhances all systems. This includes the circulatory, nervous, immune, and many other systems. This enhancement of systems results in better health, physically as well as in quality (

Mental and Emotional

In addition, the mental level of the body benefits from massage. The body experiences a "relaxed state of alertness," mental stress reduces, the mind calms and clear thinking increases. Also, the emotional level of the body benefits from massage. The body experiences the following: a sense of well-being, an ease in emotional expression, an increase in energy flow, anxiety reduces, and the awareness of mind-body communication increases. The massage influences the body in many ways ( In addition, the mind and body become integrated. The soma (body) and psyche (mind) interact in a cause and effect relationship. For example, the emotions may affect the body and the body may affect the emotions. Next, massage therapy reduces stress. This represents, perhaps, the most valuable principle to everyone. Supposedly "80-90 percent of all disease is stress induced." However, there was no research to be found or studies conducted to support this claim. Massage therapy very effectively in lowers stress levels and increases relaxation throughout the body. Finally, more energy releases into the body to improve healing. Massage therapy helps to improve the body physically and emotionally ( These principles consist of reasons why massage therapy really does improve the well-being and health of an individual.

How do Athletes Benefit?

Athletes realize the importance of stretching muscles before and after performances. This improves the performance and ease of competing as well. As the circulation increases, the athlete relaxes as the muscles release tension ( Along the same lines, massage therapy helps athletes before and after events, during training and to help speed up healing after injuries ( Furthermore, this massage pushes out the fluid built up at the site of the injury. The massage increases skin temperature to ease pain as well (


Claims about Massage Therapy

Many claims exist about massage therapy and its effectiveness. Clint Jeppsen, a practitioner at a therapy center in Eiderdown, claims that the people at his center "…feel good after they leave. The massage reduces pain and leaves people in a better state than when they came in." Two Utah State students reported that they felt an improvement in their recovery and could better control their actions. The therapy also helped to relieve tension ( The New England Journal of Medicine ranked massage therapy as third in the top forms of alternative medicine. The President of the American Massage Therapy Association, Elliot Greene, believes the AMTA could be the "fastest-growing organization of health care providers in the country." This somewhat biased information boasts for the alternative medicine field. Massage Therapists claim high qualifications are required. Five hundred hours of massage theory, technique, anatomy, physiology, first aid and CPR satisfy the requirements for the therapists in their curriculum (

Can Scientific Data Support Some Claims about Massage Therapy?

In addition, scientific data supports the claims made by massage therapists and their patients. First, studies have shown that massage therapy produced a lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as an increase in skin temperature in elderly subjects. The massage also relaxed the subjects. Second, a study conducted of subjects with spinal pain produced less pain and more flexibility and tone in the muscles. Third, another study demonstrated that the brain will send out chemical pain killers, called endorphins, from massage. Finally, the Office of Alternative Medicine has funded four grants for the study of massage therapy. The subjects of these grants include: improving immune functioning in AIDS patients, decreasing anxiety and depression in patients receiving bone marrow transplants and decreasing anxiety in women after uterine cancer surgery. Further studies conducted with premature infants who received massage therapy daily proved that the infants could gain more weight (47% more), stay six days less in the hospital and save $3000 for each infant. A study conducted with HIV patients showed an increase in natural killer cells, a decrease in anxiety levels and a decrease in serotonin levels when treated with massage five times a week ( These claims and studies are fairly reliable. The source appears well researched and documented.

Studies about Massage Therapy

In a study by Tidus and Shoemaker, it was concluded that massage didn’t improve muscle strength, making the claims about the purpose of massage in athletic settings questionable. The study tried to show the importance of massage to "enhance long term muscle recovery" through the increase in blood flow. The subjects were tested daily by massaging the quadriceps of one leg who had previously used the muscle intensely. There were no differences found between the massaged legs and the control legs up to 96 hours after exercise. The massage didn’t elevate the mean blood velocity above normal resting levels. However, the soreness in the quadriceps tended to be reduced in the massage leg to 48-96 hours after exercise. (Tidus 478).

In another study by Snyder, Egan and Burns, it was concluded that hand massage and theraputic touch increased relaxation and less anxious behavior was found. This study was conducted on subjects with dementia who had a history of agitation behaviors. Two of the three hypotheses were proved correct. First, less anxious behavior was shown, supporting the first hypothesis. Second, greater changes in the level of relaxation occurred with the use of hand massage or theraputic touch, supporting the second hypothesis. However, the third hypothesis was not supported. There was not a decrease in the targeted agitation behaviors after the massage and theraputic touch. They discussed the reasons why this didn't return the expected results and it was concluded that the behaviors may have been of short duration (Snyder 34).

A study by Kuznetsov Stiazhskina and Stiazhkin, all Russians, developed a technique of abdominal cryomassage. They used this method to help patients with coronary heart disease. The results showed that the massage improved the length of the disease and its severity, the diastolic function and other aspects important in prevention. Therefore, the experimenters concluded the massage helped the patients and should be used in combined treatment for the rehabilitation of CHD patients. Not very much detail was found from this study since it was conducted by Russians (Kuznetsov 6).

Another study by Davydova and Tupitsyna showed that underwater massage is an effective rehabilitation method for postmyocardial infarction outpatients. This study showed an improved condition on the cardiovascular condition on 70% of those treated. The pain decreased and exercise tolerance enhanced. Most importantly the effects were retained for 6 and even 12 months. About 66.7% retained for 6 months and 53.5% retained for 12 months (Davydova 3).

The above studies prove the evidence found about the benefits of massage therapy to be fairly accurate. The studies show the main purpose of massage therapy was achieved. That is, a state of relaxation was felt by the subjects. A few of the studies prove the claims about the more physical and technical benefits of massage therapy. No studies were found to support the claim of the general healthy feeling and wellness of the individual.


Who is Presenting the Information about Massage Therapy?

The American Massage Therapy Association presents most of the massage therapy information. The large organization holds 18,000 members in all states as well as many foreign countries. This large membership equals good preparation from the practitioners. The requirements include: a state license, passing an AMTA exam, passing the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork or graduation from an approved training program ( The mission of the AMTA is, " …develop and advertise the art, science and practice of massage therapy in a caring, professional and ethical manner in order to promote healthier welfare of humanity." The AMTA guides itself by the values of care ( However, most of the information obtained for this paper came from the work of M.P.H’s and Ph.D’s. William Collinge Ph.D. provided an extensive list of technical resources in his web page.

What does the American Massage Therapy Association Claim?

According to Elliot Greene, president of the American Massage Therapy Association, massage therapy provides many benefits. He claims that 80% of all diseases come from stress. He believes that massage therapy can help reduce this stress and therefore decrease this high percentage of illnesses. Greene also supports the findings of many other researchers that massage therapy elevates the flow of blood and oxygen capacity by approximately 10%-15%. His findings report that massage therapy also aids in stimulating sore and weak muscles as well as loosening sore muscles. Greene reports that the massage helps open the blood vessels, thus, improving nutrition ( What Greene reports has been supported by other reports, making the information seem valid.

Who Else is Presenting Information?

Other contributors to the information on the web about massage therapy include OccuHealth Systems Inc. This company wanted to sell software to people in the workplace, but still provided valid information that could be checked with the more reliable sources available ( The SPA GRANDE also provided valid information, but later tried to sell and promote its specialty baths and oils from its boutiques. It also promoted new membership to its spa at the Grande Wailea Resort ( The West Seattle Adventist Community Clinic provided valid information as well. It claims that it provides a "free service of your community clinic." They give a list of Medical Checkpoints with information about conditions and ways to cure these conditions (

In Conclusion

Overall, massage therapy provides a natural way to improve wellness and provide relaxation. It achieves this in many ways, including: increased blood flow, reduced lactic acid buildup, maintained health, reduced stress, and an increased feeling of well-being. Many claims try to prove the effectiveness of massage therapy. Many studies prove the effectiveness and encourage readers to try the therapy, or at least a type of alternative medicine. These claims are backed up by licensed practitioners and simply the abundance of claims. Fortunately, no claims argue the effectiveness of massage therapy. Most of the information and claims presented by Ph.D.’s and knowledgeable people in this field, such as Elliot Greene, proved valid. None of the information found contradicted the others, validating the content and worth of the information and studies. However, a few spa companies and boutiques tried to push their products over the Internet after their information. Surprisingly, the information presented agreed with that of the knowledgeable people and Ph.D.’s with extensive references following the information. In general, massage therapy appears to be a great alternative for those in good health and those who suffer from tension or minor stress. Massage therapy tends to directly correspond to wellness and good health. Therefore, massage therapy continues to provide a great form of relaxation and feeling of well-being.



1.) Davydova, OB et al. "Submerged hydromassage as a method for the rehabilitationof myocardial infarct patients at the polyclinic stage." Voprosy Kurortologii, Fizioterapii I Lechebnoi Fizicheskoi Kultury. (6):3-6, 1994 Nov-Dec.

2.) Kuznetsov OF et al. "The use of cryomassage in the rehabilitation of IHD patients." Voprosy Kurortologii, Fizioterapii I Lechebnoi fizicheskoi Kultry. (2):6-8, 1995 Mar-Apr.

3.) Tidus PM and Shoemaker JK. "Effleurage massage, muscle blood flow and long-term post-exercise strength recovery." International Journal of Sports Medicine. 16(7):478-83,1995 Oct.

4.) Snyder M. et al. "Interventions for decreasing agitation behaviors in persons with dementia." Journal of Gerontological Nursing. 21(7):34-40, 1995 Jul.


Psychology Department

The Health Psychology Home Page is produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.

Vanderbilt Homepage | Introduction to Vanderbilt | Admissions | Colleges & Schools | Research Centers | News & Media Information | People at Vanderbilt | Libraries | Administrative Departments | Medical 

  Return to the Health Psychology Home Page
  Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt


Search: Vanderbilt University
the Internet
  Help  Advanced
Tip: You can refine your last query by searching only the results by clicking on the tab above the search box
Having Trouble Reading this Page?  Download Microsoft Internet Explorer.