What is massage?

Rubbing areas that hurt is a natural human response. Other mammals have similar reactions when feeling pain or discomfort. Therapeutic massage is based on this idea. With massage, muscles and other soft body tissues are rubbed and manipulated. This helps reduce pain and aid in the healing process.

Massage is found to be helpful both physically and emotionally. The rubbing action soothes sore muscles and releases tension in the body. This calms and eases stress. 

Massage therapy can help with treatment of:

  • Back pain

  • Anxiety and stress reduction

  • Depression

  • Cancer


  • High blood pressure

  • Migraine headaches

  • Carpal tunnel symptoms

  • Sports or overuse injuries

  • Side effects of cancer and cancer therapy

Massaging muscles and soft tissue stimulates the nerves. It also increases blood flow and eases stress in the muscles. Over the centuries, many massage methods have developed including:

  • Swedish massage. This method includes the use of long, smooth strokes. The strokes knead and compress the muscles with deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping.

  • Shiatsu. This Japanese form of massage is a form of acupressure. It puts pressure on certain key points of the body.

  • Thai massage. This method also uses yoga and some traditional Chinese medicine methods.

Massages are typically done in a quiet room with soothing background music. There is also often aromatherapy from candles or incense. You often lie down on a massage table or sit in a massage chair. Massage uses a group of manual methods. These are made up of both fixed and moveable pressure.

Massage therapy is regulated by law. There are specific guidelines in 44 states and the District of Columbia. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) has set up standards of practice. It also gives a board certification exam. 

In 2013, the NCBTMB established board certification. This is the highest attainable credential for massage therapists today. 

The NCBTMB board certification requires that a massage therapist meets these requirements: 

  • Pass the board certification exam

  • Complete 750 hours of education

  • Complete 250 hours of professional hands-on experience

  • Pass a full national background check

  • Have a current CPR certification

  • Agree to uphold NCBTMB Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics

  • Agree to oppose human trafficking

Research has shown that massage therapy has few risks if used appropriately and provided by a trained massage professional. Tell all of your healthcare providers (conventional or complementary) about the health methods, supplements, and medicines you use. This will give them a full picture of your health and help ensure safe, effective, coordinated care.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bianca Garilli MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
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