Prior to the advent of pharmaceutical medicine earlier in this century, references to massage therapy and research were not uncommon in the mainstream medical literature. There were over six hundred articles in various journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, British Medical Journal, and others from 1813 to 1939. A great deal of research was also conducted in Eastern Bloc countries and China. In this country after World War I, there was a precipitous decline in focus on this field as drugs and other allopathic interventions gained the foreground.
With the renewed interest in natural forms of treatment, research activity in massage and bodywork has again gained momentum. Studies have documented benefits for amputations, arthritis, cerebral palsy, cerebral vascular accident, fibrositis syndrome, menstrual cramps, paraplegia/quadriplegia, scoliosis, acute and chronic pain, acute and chronic inflammation, chronic lymphedema, nausea, muscle spasm, soft tissue dysfunctions, grand mal epileptic seizures, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and psychoemotional stress, which may aggravate significant mental illness. Following are a few examples of recent studies.
Massage in the Elderly. A controlled study showed massage therapy produced relaxation in eighteen elderly subjects. This study demonstrated physiological signs of relaxation in terms of decreased blood pressure and heart rate and increased skin temperature.5
When the Office of Alternative Medicine at NIH invited applications for its initial wave of research grants, eighty-five of the 450 applications were for massage related studies, the largest number of any modality. Of the first thirty grants awarded, the following four dealt with massage therapy:
Thomas Burk,Ph.D., of the Morse Physical Health Research Center in Toledo, Ohio, was awarded a grant to study whether immune functioning could be improved in AIDS patients when massage therapy was used in combination with antiviral drugs.
Denise Matt Tope, Ph.D., of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, was awarded funds to study whether massage therapy can reduce anxiety and depression in bone marrow transplant patients.
Douglas DeGood, Ph.D., at the University of Virginia was funded to study the degree to which massage therapy can reduce anxiety and the need for follow-up care in women undergoing surgery for uterine cancer.
Frank Scafidi, Ph.D., at the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute is studying the effects of daily massage on growth, cognitive development, and immune function in premature infants born to HIV infected mothers.
A fifth study involves Therapeutic Touch. Melodie Olson of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston is using a controlled experiment to examine the effects of Therapeutic Touch on the immune functioning of highly stressed students preparing for professional board exams. Positive findings would have implications for other highly stressed populations including cancer and AIDS patients.
Spinal Pain. A study of the combination of various types of massage in fifty-two patients with traumatically induced spinal pain led to significant reductions in acute and chronic pain and increased muscle flexibility and tone. This study also found massage to be extremely cost-effective in comparison with other pain therapies, with cost savings ranging from 15 to 50 percent.6