Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Does [favourite massage method] work?

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Get posts in your inbox:
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Q Is there any scientific evidence that my favourite minor massage method really works?

A The massage world is fragmented into dozens (even hundreds) of branded methods touted to be better than Swedish massage. People ask often ask me if one these methods “really works.” Unfortunately, we can’t judge any of the lesser massage techniques based on the results of good tests (that is, careful comparisons with other treatments, and fake treatments). Such data is thin even for the most prominent massage modalities. The rest have not been studied at all, or so poorly that it barely counts (eg: “tensegrity-based massage”). For now, and maybe forever, we can only judge these methods on the basis of the strength of their defining idea.

If they even have one. What’s different about it from other common massage methods? Anything? What can it do that supposedly other techniques cannot? You’d be surprised how many barely count as more than a slight variation on Swedish massage. Even if it is distinctive, is the big idea any better than a pet theory? Most are not. The history of medicine is littered with pet theory corpses. Most treatment ideas do not work out (null hypothesis), even really good ones. And almost everything that is worthwhile about massage is probably thanks to being artfully touched, which you’ll get from most methods. A slightly more detailed version of this answer is now in my article Does Massage Therapy Work?

PainSci Member Login » Submit your email to unlock member content. If you can’t remember/access your registration email, please contact me. ~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher