Modern Research & Massage

Ancient medicine for a modern world

Massage therapy modalities are safe, natural, drug-free and effective. Here are a few studies, most of which were conducted by the Touch Research Institute:


Anorexics who received massage reported lower stress and anxiety levels and had lower cortisol levels following massage than their counterparts who did not receive massage. They also reported decreased body dissatisfaction on the Eating Disorder Inventory.


Children with mild to moderate juvenile rheumatoid arthritis were massaged by their parents 15 minutes a day for 30 days (and a control group engaged in relaxation therapy). The children’s anxiety and cortisol levels were immediately decreased by the massage, and over the 30-day period their pain decreased on self-reports, parent reports, and their physician’s assessment of pain (both the incidence and severity) and pain-limiting activities.


Twenty children with autism, ages 3 to 6 years, were randomly assigned to massage therapy and reading attention control groups. Parents in the massage therapy group were trained by a massage therapist to massage their children for 15 minutes prior to bedtime every night for 1 month and the parents of the attention control group read Dr. Seuss stories to their children on the same time schedule. Conners Teacher and Parent scales, classroom and playground observations, and sleep diaries were used to assess the effects of therapy on various behaviors, including hyperactivity, stereotypical and off-task behavior, and sleep problems. The children in the massage group exhibited less stereotypic behavior and showed more on-task and social relatedness behavior during play observations at school, and they experienced fewer sleep problems at home.


In another recent study of adult patients with burns, patients were randomly assigned before debridement to either a massage therapy group or a standard treatment control group. State anxiety and cortisol levels decreased, and behavior ratings of state, activity, vocalizations and anxiety improved after the massage therapy sessions on the first and last days of treatment.


A multisite study of more than 300 hospice patients with advanced cancer concluded that massage may help to relieve pain and improve mood for these patients.

Cocaine-exposed neonates

Cocaine exposed preterm neonates were randomly assigned to a control group or massage therapy group. The massaged infants averaged 28% greater weight gain per day although the groups did not differ in intake, showed significantly fewer postnatal complications and stress behaviors than did control infants, and demonstrated more mature motor behaviors on the Brazelton examination at the end of the 10-day study period.


Thirty-two depressed adolescent mothers received ten 30-minute sessions of massage therapy or relaxation therapy over a five-week period. Subjects were randomly assigned to each group. Although both groups reported lower anxiety following their first and final sessions, only the massage therapy group showed behavioral and stress hormone changes, including a decrease in anxious behavior, heartrate and cortisol levels.


Young children with atopic dermatitis were treated with standard topical care and massage by their parents for 20 minutes daily for a 1 month period. A control group received standard topical care only. The children’s affect and activity level significantly improved, and their parent’s anxiety decreased immediately after the massage therapy sessions. Over the 1 month period, parents of massaged children reported lower anxiety levels in their children, and the children improved significantly on all clinical measures including redness, scaling, lichenification, excoriation, and pruritus. The control group only improved significantly on the scaling measure


Adults with migraine headaches were randomly assigned to a wait-list control group or to a massage therapy group, who received two 30-minute massages per week for five consecutive weeks. The massage therapy subjects reported fewer distress symptoms, less pain, more headache free days, fewer sleep disturbances, and they showed an increase in serotonin levels.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is associated with elevated anxiety, stress and stress hormones, hostility, depression and catecholamines. Massage therapy and progressive muscle relaxation were evaluated as treatments for reducing blood pressure and these associated symptoms. Adults who had been diagnosed as hypertensive received ten 30 minute massage sessions over five weeks or they were given progressive muscle relaxation instructions (control group). Sitting diastolic blood pressure decreased after the first and last massage therapy sessions and reclining diastolic blood pressure decreased from the first to the last day of the study. Although both groups reported less anxiety, only the massage therapy group reported less depression and hostility and showed decreased cortisol.


HIV+ adolescents recruited from a large urban university hospital’s outpatient clinic were randomly assigned to receive massage therapy or progressive muscle relaxation two-times per week for 12 weeks. To assess treatment effects, participants were assessed for depression, anxiety and immune changes before and after the 12 weeks treatment period. Adolescents who received massage therapy versus those who experienced relaxation therapy reported feeling less anxious and they were less depressed, and showed enhanced immune function by the end of the 12 week study. Immune changes included increased Natural Killer cell number. In addition, the HIV disease progression markers (CD4/CD8 ratio and CD4 number) showed an increase for the massage therapy group only.

Neck pain

A study on patients with chronic neck pain found that therapeutic massage was more beneficial than a self-care book, in terms of improving function and relieving symptoms.

Premenstrual Syndrome

A study of women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder were randomly assigned to a massage therapy or a relaxation therapy group. The massage group showed decreased anxiety, depressed mood and pain immediately after the first and last massage sessions. The longer term effects of massage therapy included a reduction in pain and water retention and overall menstrual distress.

Pre-term infants

Forty preterm infants were assigned to treatment (massage) and control (non-massage) groups. The treatment infants averaged a 21% greater weight gain per day , were discharged 5 days earlier, and performed better on the habituation cluster items of the Brazelton scale. Treatment infants were also more active during the stimulation sessions than during the non-stimulation observation sessions (particularly during the tactile segments of the sessions).