Mention the word massage in the Western world and most men will give a cheeky grin, yet this form of healing has been around forever and even has a biblical reference from c. 493 BC. All ancient civilisations’ texts mention massage and in China it is taught in medical schools. So why in the west does its name have such links to the sex trade? That is a hard question to answer but massage is the most natural therapy known to man: when a child falls over the adult rubs or massages the area, it is that natural.

But Does Massage Actually Work?

Many Randomized Clinical Trials (RCT’s) seem to suggest that massage does work but many of the trials are flawed in that they are open to bias, mainly because of a lack of randomisation, blinding and placebo. That said would it still be so wide spread if it didn’t work and would so many different forms of massage have developed?

Probably the most notable European development of massage came from Per Hendrik Ling in the 18th Century who developed what is now known as Swedish massage. In Swedish massage the basic movements are effleurage (long, gliding strokes), petrissage (lifting and kneading the muscles), friction (firm, deep, circular rubbing movements), apotement (brisk tapping or percussive movements), and vibration (rapidly shaking or vibrating specific muscles). Interestingly these are also basic techniques of tui na and Chinese massage.

So we can now see that Swedish massage derived from the older Chinese massage yet studies seem to show nothing conclusive. That leaves us with Empirical research. It has been round for thousands of years and is the most common form of healing used by most health practitioners in the Western world and we have seen that it actually derived from a much older Chinese form of massage. Therefore, I would dare to say that “YES” massage does work even though we haven’t quite mastered measuring its effectiveness yet.

Where Does That Leave Massage?

It leaves us with the requirement to start doing effective trials to measure if massage actually does work, this may then finally make the orthodox medical community take the ancient art of massage seriously.

Maybe future massage trials cold be used to determine the optimal frequency, duration and timing of massage therapy for various ailments and the effect different types of massage have on different conditions. It seems there is still a huge amount of evidence gathering required if massage is going to get the recognition it finally deserves.