A collection of different research and clinical studies regarding massage and touch. I am only including major studies that are relevant to our practice and ongoing discussion (Unfortunately, I am probably only including studies that specifically add to my narrative…). You can look at my Blog Posts to see less clinical information about touch and massage.

Also, if you are interested in doing your own research, take a look at my research resources page.


June 2012 – Neural structural/functional and physiological correlates of massage therapy in response to physical stress
There was a significant decrease in activity during stress after massage compared with pre-massage in the left caudate nucleus, rectus gyrus (Brodmann Area 11), and bilaterally in the inferior frontal gyrus. A decrease in the epinephrine and norepinephrine levels was also observed after the massage session.

The decreased response following massage suggests a calming of the limbic-prefrontal cortical circuit that is activated during stress and effects on the sympathetic nervous system. These results provide preliminary evidence for the mechanism of massage therapy effects related to pain processing being related to reduction in a sympathetic response.

Full Study on the National Institute of Health Website

May 2012 – Massage Therapy for the Pain of Osteoarthritis of the Knee
Research supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) showed that sixty minute sessions of Swedish massage once a week for those with osteoarthritis of the knee significantly reduced their pain. Each massage therapy session followed a specific protocol, including the nature of massage strokes. This is the latest published research study indicating the benefits of massage therapy for those with osteoarthritis of the knee. The study involved a total group of 125 subjects, with 25 receiving the 60-minute massage over 8 weeks, while others received less massage or usual care without massage. Previous studies on massage for the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee showed similar results, but were on a more limited number of subjects.

Text from AMTA Website
Full Study on the PLOS Website

March 2012 – Reduction of Current Migraine Headache Pain Following Neck Massage and Spinal Manipulation (Small Study)
They demonstrated in this preliminary study that cervical spinal massage and manipulation could significantly reduce the headache pain intensity in acute migraine attacks. However, future controlled studies with larger sample sizes are necessary to confirm the findings of the present study.
Full Study on the National Institute of Health Website

February 2012 – Massage Therapy for Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized Dose-Finding Trial
This dose-finding trial established an optimal dose of 60-minutes of this manualized Swedish massage therapy treatment delivered once weekly in an eight week protocol for OA of the knee. This decision was based on the superiority of the 60 minute compared to 30 minute treatments, the essentially equivalent outcomes of the two 60 minute doses, the convenience of a once-weekly protocol (compared to biweekly), cost savings, and consistency with a typical real-world massage protocol.

Full Study on the National Institute of Health Website

February 2012 – Massage Therapy for Inflammation After Exercise
Research through the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario indicates that massage therapy reduces inflammation of skeletal muscle acutely damaged through exercise. The study provides evidence for the benefits of massage therapy for those with musculoskeletal injuries and potentially for those with inflammatory disease, according to the lead author of the research.

The study found evidence at the cellular level that massage therapy may affect inflammation in a way similar to anti-inflammatory medications. The researchers “found that massage activated the mechanotransduction signaling pathways focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and extracellular signal–regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), potentiated mitochondrial biogenesis signaling [nuclear peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PGC-1α)], and mitigated the rise in nuclear factor κB (NFκB) (p65) nuclear accumulation caused by exercise-induced muscle trauma.”

Text from AMTA Website
Abstract of Study from the Science Transitional Medicine Site

January 20, 2012 – Neural correlates of a single-session massage treatment
Full Study from the National Institute of Health Site


A number of studies confirm the effectiveness of massage for back and neck pain, including one published in 2011 in the Annals of Internal Medicine that looked at the effectiveness of massage therapy on 401 people with chronic low back pain. The researchers found that massage did reduce their pain, and the benefits lasted at least six months. They also concluded that the type of massage wasn’t that important – different types worked about the same.

July 5, 2011 – A Comparison of Massage Therapy and Usual Medical Care for Chronic Low Back Pain
One study regarding low-back pain comprised 401 patients aged 20 to 65 years old with nonspecific chronic low-back pain and compared the effectiveness of either relaxation or structural massage versus usual care, including medication and physical therapy. Participants were asked about their abilities to perform daily activities and then randomly assigned to receive one to three treatments.

One group received full-body relaxation massage, often called Swedish massage, and another received focused deep tissue massage, where specific pain-related tissues, ligaments and joints are targeted. The third group received therapies including pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or physical therapy. Those receiving massage were given a one-hour massage once a week for 10 weeks.

The Results
After 10 weeks, the researchers again surveyed the participants about their symptoms and mobility, and again at six months and one year. The two groups of patients receiving massage therapy reported their back pain was significantly improved or gone altogether.

Although previous studies on massage therapy and low-back pain have concentrated primarily on effectiveness of deep tissue massage, researchers are hopeful about the success of relaxation massage modalities offering significant benefits. Two reasons are that relaxation massage is oftentimes more widely available and cost-effective.

Text from AMTA website
Full Study on the Annals of Internal Medicine Website


December 2010 – Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome characterized by generalized pain, joint rigidity, intense fatigue, sleep alterations, headache, spastic colon, craniomandibular dysfunction, anxiety, and depression. This study demonstrated that massage-myofascial release techniques improved pain and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia.

The study found reductions in sensitivity to pain at tender points in patients with fibromyalgia. Patients in the massage group received 90-minute massage for 20 weeks. Immediately after treatment and one month after the massage program, anxiety levels, quality of sleep, pain and quality of life were still improved.

Text from AMTA website
Full Study on the National Institute of Health Website

September 2010 – A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals
Compared to light touch, Swedish Massage Therapy caused a large effect size decrease in AVP, and a small effect size decrease in CORT, but these findings were not mediated by OT. Massage increased the number of circulating lymphocytes, CD 25+ lymphocytes, CD 56+ lymphocytes, CD4 + lymphocytes, and CD8+ lymphocytes (effect sizes from 0.14 to 0.43). Mitogen-stimulated levels of interleukin (IL)–1β, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, IL-13, and IFN-γ decreased for subjects receiving Swedish Massage Therapy versus light touch (effect sizes from −0.22 to −0.63). Swedish Massage Therapy decreased IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13 levels relative to baseline measures.

Preliminary data suggest that a single session of Swedish Massage Therapy produces measurable biologic effects. If replicated, these findings may have implications for managing inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

Full Study on the National Institute of Health Website