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Massage Therapy


Denise Millstine

, MD, Mayo Clinic

Last full review/revision Sep 2018| Content last modified Sep 2018
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In massage therapy (a manipulative and body-based practice), body tissues are manipulated to reduce pain, relieve muscle tension, and reduce stress. The therapeutic value of massage for many musculoskeletal symptoms is widely accepted. Massage has been shown to help or relieve symptoms in the following:

  • Headaches

  • Pain (eg, post-operative, chronic, musculoskeletal, end of life care, pelvic, labor, burns, in dementia)

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Mood disorders (eg, anxiety, depression)

  • Mood and symptoms in patients with cancer (eg, pain, fatigue, stress, anxiety, lymphatic drainage)

  • Symptoms in preterm infants (eg, to promote sleep, growth and weight gain, and digestive health) (1, 2, 3)

  • HIV/AIDS (eg, quality of life, stress, immune function) (4)

Massage can cause bruising and bleeding in patients with thrombocytopenia or bleeding disorders. Therapists must avoid putting pressure on bones affected by osteoporosis or metastatic cancer.


  • 1. Juneau AL, Aita M, Héon M: Review and critical analysis of massage studies for term and preterm infants. Neonatal Netw 34(3):165-77, 2015. doi: 10.1891/0730-0832.34.3.165.

  • 2. Álvarez MJ, Fernández D, Gómez-Salgado J: The effects of massage therapy in hospitalized preterm neonates: A systematic review. Int J Nurs Stud 69:119-136, 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2017.02.009. 

  • 3. Badr LK, Abdallah B, Kahale L: A meta-analysis of preterm infant massage: an ancient practice with contemporary applications. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs 40(6):344-58, 2015. doi: 10.1097/NMC.0000000000000177.

  • 4. Hillier SL, Louw Q, Morris L, et al: Massage therapy for people with HIV/AIDS. Cochrane Database Syst Rev(1):CD007502, 2010. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007502.pub2.

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