Types Of Massage And Health Benefits

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Massage therapy is one of the oldest forms of medical treatment used by mankind over the millennia. Research shows that friction was the most widely used medical practice until the pharmaceutical revolutionand the industrial introduction of penicillin into medical therapy and the emergence of large pharmaceutical companies.1 2

It is one of the most important integrative health practices that are still often underestimated in comparison to its amazing health benefits. However, it has been gaining popularity again as a natural and non-invasive health resource. 

Massage therapy has been highly recommended by integrative health professionals for people of all ages who are seeking either the treatment of numerous medical conditions or the prevention of illness through the reduction of stress and the release of accumulated muscle tension from daily life.

Its value has been studied and recognised by numerous scientists and institutions, most notably the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM), the knowledge centre for Traditional and Complementary Medicine (T&CM).3, 4

Types of massage

Massage therapy is a specialised manipulation of muscles, tissues and joints that increases circulation, rids the body of harmful toxins, boosts the immune system, relieves muscle tension, reduces pain, and decreases stress and swelling.5

In recent years, there has been a growing body of research investigating the potential health benefits of different types of massage, with similarities and differences in techniques and styles. In this article, we look at some of these: Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, sports massage, trigger point massage, shiatsu massage and, Thai massage.6

Swedish massage

A Swedish massage is the methodical application of manual pressure and movement on the soft parts of the body, with rhythmic pressure and stroking, for the purpose of achieving or preserving well-being.

There are several studies that highlight the benefits and recommend Swedish massages for various populations, including infants, older children, pregnant women, older adults, and cancer patients.

As an integrative and complementary practice aimed at health promotion and disease prevention, Swedish relaxing massage is highly recommended for its many health benefits, among which we can highlight:7, 8

  • Nasal breathing and cleanness in children
  • Improved adrenal cortex function in infants, which controls important bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc 
  • Reduced lower back pain
  • Excellent effects for osteoarthritis conditions: improved quality of life and empowerment with improved ability to perform activities of daily living
  • Promotion of blood circulation 
  • Softening of the connective tissue
  • Relaxing effects
  • Reducing pain levels

Deep tissue massage

Deep tissue massage therapy has some similarities with the Swedish massage technique. Although they may be similar there are significant differences. The massage therapist, who has all the skills to work with the tissues in these layers, focuses on relaxing, lengthening and releasing holding patterns in the most effective and energy-efficient way possible, according to the parameters of the client's comfort.9

Studies emphasize the health benefits, by stating improvements in pain intensity, with a significant reduction in chronic back pain and improvement in function. In fact, a prospective randomized trial concluded that concomitant use of deep tissue massage and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) was as effective as just deep tissue massage in reducing low back pain.10 11

Sports massage

Based on observations and experience, sports massages have has been used by professionals in the field and therefore became the subject of relevant scientific studies due to their numerous effects on the body.

Sports massage is highly indicated for athletes due to its potential to improve performance, reduce the risk y or the severity of injury, positive effects on recovery, including pain reduction, among others, such as12

  • Increased blood flow 
  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Increased joint range of motion 
  • Reduced passive stiffness and reduced active stiffness
  • Relaxation
  • Reduction of anxiety
  • Improved mood
  • Increased sense of well-being

Trigger point massage

Have you ever experienced pain when pressing a muscle point? 

Or an increased tension in the sore muscle, which can be associated with a decrease in range of motion and relief with stretching of the muscle? This pain may be a trigger point, which needs to be evaluated by a qualified professional for proper diagnosis. Trigger points are sites of hyperirritability in a tissue that, when compressed due to hypersensitivity, cause pain. This is a spasm or knot in the muscle fibre that can cause pain, whether or not it radiates to other parts of the body. 

According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), massage therapy has been shown to be very helpful in reducing pain and disability, with results after only a few sessions.13

For those in pain, in fact, non-invasive treatment, with an emphasis on trigger points massage, should be the first preferred option.  In addition, for healthy people, trigger points massage on the head, neck and shoulders can increase parasympathetic activity and improve the ability to relax.14, 15

Shiatsu massage

Shiatsu massages are  widely practised around the world as a form of integrative and complementary therapy. It originated in Japan in the early 20th century, where it is recognised as a legitimate form of healthcare, often used in conjunction with other forms of traditional medicine. In fact, shiatsu massage is based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and uses the body's meridian system to identify and treat imbalances in the body's energy flow. 

Shiatsu massage is known for its ability to promote deep relaxation, stress and tension relief, and pain reduction. It has been used to treat a wide range of conditions, including back pain, headaches, digestive problems and anxiety.16

In addition, shiatsu massage has been studied as one of the possible sensory stimulation interventions among non-pharmacological interventions for behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), and Alzheimer's disease.17

Thai massage

Traditional Thai massage (TTM), also simply known as a Thai massage,  to Nuad Bo'Rarn (ancient massage), a manual therapy developed in Thailand to promote health and longevity. Thai massages focus on health prevention and the treatment of various imbalances in the body. This is typical of Asian culture: keeping the body and mind active, the organs functioning as harmoniously as possible, while unblocking energy channels.

Traditional Thai massage is a deep tissue massage. It suggests a true relaxation of the body and mind as a routine before the massage. It is believed to work with vital energy. The patient receives the transmission of this wave of energy from the massage therapist. The pressure is applied firmly enough and released slowly enough to maintain a state of relaxation. Touching along the body's energy channels with gentle passive stretching is believed to release blocked energy, increasing awareness and vitality.

Many studies, including systematic reviews, have been conducted to search for the effects of TTM on the intensity of pain and other important outcomes in people with chronic pain. They have shown the effectiveness of TTM as an integrative and complementary treatment in reducing short-term pain and disability in patients with non-specific low back pain (LBP), as well as improvements in perceived muscle tension, in flexibility and in anxiety. In addition, the benefits appeared to be sustained for up to 15 weeks.18 19

Thai massage is a combination of elements from Ayurveda, Yoga and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that aims to improve the flow of internal energy and contribute to the improvement of physical, mental and energetic health. It is a branch of traditional medicine that has evolved in Thai society through the learning and development of medical formulas and healthcare arts. The results of Thai massage have been proven to improve health and well-being.

Benefits of massage

As we have seen, there are countless health benefits that can be derived from any type of massage therapy. Physical benefits

Massage therapy has been shown to be valuable for pregnant women in reducing leg and back pain, and has shown significant benefits in pain perception during labour.20

A wide range of infant and childhood conditions have been shown to benefit from massage therapy. These include sexual abuse, physical maltreatment, asthma, autistic disorder, burn injury, cancer, developmental delay, psoriatic disease, diabetes, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.21

A study has found that massage therapy reduces physical symptoms associated with cerebral palsy (CP). Fewer physical symptoms, including reduced spasticity, less overall and arm rigidity, and improved fine and gross motor function, were seen in children who received massage therapy.22

A comprehensive review of the scientific literature concerning the effects of massage therapy in response to stress found a consistent reduction in salivary cortisol and heart rate, with some evidence already documented of a positive effect on diastolic blood pressure.23

In the elderly, aromatherapy has been tried with reports of effectiveness in relieving short-term knee pain when using aromatic ginger and orange essential oil for moderate to severe knee pain.24

Mental and emotional benefits

Pregnancy massage is increasingly being used to reduce anxiety and depression.20

In general, massage therapy has resulted in lower levels of anxiety and stress hormones in babies with no medical problems, as well as in premature babies, babies exposed to cocaine, babies exposed to HIV, and babies born to depressed mothers. Similar results have been shown in children who have gone through sexual abuse, physical abuse or those with eating disorders , post-traumatic stress disorder and psychiatric problems.21

​​Studies suggest that massage therapy should be considered as an early intervention for children with CP. Children with cerebral palsyshowed improved cognitive, social and dressing scores on the Developmental Profile, more positive facial expressions and less limb activity during play interactions.22

here is evidence that therapeutic massages are beneficialin improving mood and behaviour, as an integrative treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - one of the most prevalent neurobehavioural disorders in childhood, with three core symptoms - inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. in children and adolescents.25

Choosing the right massage for you

In order to find the type of massage that best meets your expectations and/or health needs, a preliminary interview with a duly accredited and experienced massage therapist could be of great value.

What to expect during a massage session

The approach of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine (TCIM) is in favour of self-care, autonomy and self-responsibility. 

Massage therapy requires  the patient to research  the best types of massage; a choice of an accredited and better-qualified professional for a detailed anamnesis; an openness to touch,  connect with others, to partnership.26

During the massage session, you can expect an increase in physical, mental, emotional and energetic health through the release of muscle tension, stress relief and the sense of comfort, relaxation and personal empowerment that this type of integrative practice can provide.

Potential side effects and precautions

The technique and intensity of touch and pressure used in regular massage must be assessed by a competent professional in order to avoid causing pain, injury or allergic reactions as adverse effects. Therefore, it is important to choose a licensed massage therapist,  certified and qualified to carry out a detailed risk assessment.


The literature on adverse effects is scarce, and the evidence is overwhelming in favour of positive effects and against negative ones. Nevertheless, it is important that the massage therapist commits himself/herself to further study so as not to contribute to the aggravation of pain.27

Risk of injury

During a regular massage, measures must be taken to avoid the risk of injuries, bruises, contusions, strains, sprains, joint dislocations, nerve damage and burns from heat therapies, such as hot stones. The care is as much about the patient as it is about the massage therapist.

The massage therapist needs in-depth technical and up-to-date knowledge to carry out a detailed anamnesis, to choose and apply the right technique for each patient, using the right pressure and the right care to avoid injuring the patient or himself/herself.

In addition, it is also necessary to have a good sense of self-responsibility on the part of the massage therapist, with an emphasis on self-care, including workstations set up to allow good body mechanics.28

Allergic reactions

Before a therapeutic massage, it is important to take a detailed medical history to avoid any possible allergic reactions to oils or essential oils.


Massage therapy has been shown by various researchers to provide a range of physical, mental and emotional benefits. These include improved growth in premature babies, relief from chronic pain, reduced stress levels , improved sleep patterns and improved immune function. Massage therapy has also been shown to be effective in treating mental and emotional conditions such as depression and addiction. Overall, massage therapy is a complementary practice that can help with tension, relaxation, stress relief, tension and overall well-being.6


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Gloria Moura Alves

B. A. with teaching certificate emphasis on Modern Languages and Literature: Portuguese from Brazil and Europe; American and British English; and Literature UniCEUB, Brasília, Federal District, Brazil

Glória is an integrative homeopath, with a B.Sc. in Natural Sciences and a B.Sc. in Biomedicine (expected graduation: July 2023 and July 2024). She is a student of M.Sc. in Public Health at Fiocruz. In tune with the 2030 Agenda (5 P's of Sustainability), she is committed to Environment & Health and Health Promotion, in order to reduce health inequalities and iatrogenesis. She is specialized in Immunology, Ageing Health and in Tradicional, Complementary and Integrative Medicines. She is certified in Epidemiology (automated reporting, data visualisation, construction of dashboards and control diagrams for Health Surveillance); in Collective Health (Public Health: Family Health Care Management); in Elderly Health Care Management; in Acupuncture; in Homeopathy; in Phytotherapy; in Medicinal Herbs; in Medicinal Use of Cannabis; and in Clinical Psychoanalysis. Focused on international cooperation, as CEO of the Natural Institute, she has been developing important partnerships in Research, Education and Scientific Dissemination. She is a Regional Director for Medical Review and Translation in South America; a Portuguese and English Language Teacher for Healthcare Workers; and a Board Member: Air Ambulance Service Project for Disaster Preparedness, affiliated with the World Humanitarian Organisation for Peace and Equity (WHOPE) and the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC). She is proud to be a Medical Writer on this amazing project for Klarity Health.

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