Overall, Massage Is Effective
"A Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy Research" was conducted by staff at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Educational Psychology.
Studies that were included in the analysis had to meet a number of criteria, such as the use of a bodywork modality consistent with the definition of massage as "the manual manipulation of soft tissue to promote health and well-being."
Each study also had to compare a massage-therapy group with one or more non-massage control groups; use random group assignment; and report enough data for "a between-groups effect size to be generated on at least one dependent variable of interest," state the study's authors.
The 37 studies selected for the analysis used a total of 1,802 participants. Of these, 795 received massage therapy and 1,007 received a comparison treatment.
Researchers looked at nine dependent outcome variables among the studies, to see if the results would show consistent improvement with massage therapy. The single-dose (short-term) outcomes analyzed were state anxiety, negative mood, pain assessed immediately after massage, heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. The multiple-dose (long-term) effects analyzed were trait anxiety, depression and delayed assessment of pain.
State anxiety is temporary and situation-specific, while trait anxiety is the innate tendency to be anxious.
The mean results of the 37 studies showed significant reductions in state anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate, trait anxiety, depression and delayed assessment of pain.
"This meta-analysis supports the general conclusion that [massage therapy] is effective. Thirty-seven studies yielded a statistically significant overall effect as well as six specific effects out of nine that were examined," state the study's authors.
Mean results for negative mood, immediate assessment of pain and cortisol were not significant.
Massage therapy's most powerful effects, according to the combined results of the studies, were the reduction of trait anxiety and depression.
"The average [massage therapy] participant experienced a reduction in trait anxiety that was greater than 77 percent of comparison group participants, and a reduction of depression that was greater than 73 percent of comparison group participants," state the study's authors. "Considered together, these results indicate that [massage therapy] may have an effect similar to that of psychotherapy."
The authors suggest further research into whether massage therapy is as effective as psychotherapy, and whether a combination of the two is more effective than either one alone.
- Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Educational Psychology. Authors: Christopher A. Moyer, James Rounds and James W. Hannum. Originally published in Psychological Bulletin 2004, Vol. 130, No. 1, pp. 3-18.