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Massage Therapy as an Alternative Medicine


The growing interest in complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) has seen facilitated an increase in the use of massage therapy in clinical practice. Kim et al. (2012) have defined massage therapy as the manual manipulation of muscles and soft tissues by accredited professionals for medicinal purposes. According to Smith et al. (2009), massage therapy enhances the physical, psychological, and functional outcomes among different groups of patients. Conversely, Furlan et al. (2009) have raised concerns over the safety and efficacy of massage therapy as an alternative medicine. Nonetheless, massage therapy is both a complementary and an alternative medicine that is effectual in relieving the severe symptoms of chronic diseases.

The scope of massage therapy in clinical practice has expanded and gained recognition over the past two decades. In essence, biomedical research has focused primarily on the physical, psychological, and physiological effects of massage therapy (Kumar, Beaton & Hughes, 2013). The therapeutic significance of a massage is the fundamental role it plays in lowering the heart rate as well as relaxing the mind and body. In addition, a massage therapy increases an action and presence of the natural killer cells, which are essential to boost the body’s immunity (Cherkin et al., 2011). Smith et al. have also reported that massage therapy restores blood temperature at optimal levels. Despite these benefits, the positive correlation between massage therapy and enhanced immunity remains contentious (Jordan et al., 2009).

The Clinical Significance of Massage Therapy

Although findings from clinical trials are both preliminary and inconclusive, emerging evidence has highlighted the medicinal benefits of massage therapy. For instance, Jordan et al. (2009) have found out that massage therapy relieves pain, which is an ubiquitous challenge in medical practice. By contrast, the evidence supporting the effectiveness of this therapy is inadequate. Post-White et al. (2009) have argued that the positive outcomes of massage therapy are short-term. In a contrast, patients require prolonged treatment sessions to receive complete healing (Furlan et al., 2009). Regardless of the preceding assertions, researchers have conducted extensive investigations on the effects of massage therapy in treating acute illnesses.

Oncology is one of the areas that has received much attention in biomedical research considering the severity of cancer. Oncologists are now recommending massage therapy as a crucial technique to reduce the severity of cancer symptoms during the end-of-life stage (Smith et al., 2009). The debilitating manifestations of cancer (particularly postsurgical pain) predispose patients to depression, emotional stress, and anxiety (Jordan et al., 2009). Jordan et al. have noted that these clinical indications increase in intensity because most cancer patients do not receive adequate treatment for psychological symptoms. Thus, Jakobsen and Herrstedt (2009) have asserted that massage is a critical alternative therapy that alleviates the deleterious symptoms of cancer and other acute diseases.

Nausea and vomiting are frequent symptoms in oncology, obstetrics, palliative care, and postoperative settings. Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) cause acute renal failure, electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and increase patients’ sensitivity to infections (Jakobsen & Herrstedt, 2009). For instance, findings from a clinical trial conducted by Jordan et al. (2009) indicated that acupressure was effective in managing nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. The effectiveness of massage therapy was more superior to the placebo in various groups of patients, who participated in the previous study. Another study by Post-White et al. (2009) found out that acupressure was equivalent to acupuncture and first-line anti-emetics in postoperative and obstetric patients. In practice, massage induces a relaxation response that minimizes the risk of nausea and vomiting (Jordan et al., 2009).

Massage therapy has also been efficacious in managing a number of pain-related conditions, principally those originating from the musculoskeletal. The high prevalence of lower back pain in the contemporary society is contributing to the substantial utilization of health care services. Consequently, the health care system incurs high costs to manage the frequency of lower back pain (Cherkin et al., 2011). The implications of low back pain include social, physical, and psychological corollaries on the lives of affected individuals (Kim et al., 2012). Massage has increasingly emerged as both a complementary and alternative treatment for this musculoskeletal disorder (Furlan et al., 2009). By contrast, Kumar, Beaton, and Hughes (2013) have argued that the capacity of massage to treat nonspecific back pain remains a contested area.


Massage therapy has increasingly emerged as a safe and efficacious technique to palliate the severe symptoms associated with chronic diseases. The field of oncology has used massage therapy extensively to minimize the severity of clinical manifestations in cancer patients. In addition, massage therapy has been efficient in treating lower back pain as well as lowering the incidence of nausea and vomiting. Anecdotal evidence combined with excellent safety makes massage therapy an alternative therapy to treat the deleterious symptoms of chronic diseases. Nonetheless, the widespread administration and recommendation of massage therapy in clinical settings necessitate additional research to generate conclusive evidence. Such findings will be essential to formulate evidence-based clinical guidelines to facilitate the assimilation of massage therapy in conventional medicine.


Cherkin, D. C., Sherman, K. J., Kahn, J. Wellman, R., Cook, A. J., Johnson, E., Erro, J., … Deyo, R. A. (2011). A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: A randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 155(1), 1-9.

Furlan, A. D., Imamura, M., Dryden, T., & Irvin, E. (2009). Massage for low-back pain: An updated systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane Back Review Group. Spine, 34, 1669–1684.

Jakobsen, J. N. & Herrstedt, J. (2009). Prevention of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in elderly cancer patients. Critical Review of Oncology/Hematology, 71, 214–221.

Jordan, K., Kinitz, I., Voigt, W., Behlendorf, T., Wolf, H. H., & Schmoll, H. J. (2009). Safety and efficacy of triple antiemetic combination of the NK-1 antagonist aprepitant in highly and moderately emetogenic multiple chemotherapy. European Journal of Cancer, 45, 1184–1187.

Kim, Y. C., Lee, M. S., Park, E. S., Lew, J. H., & Lee, B. J. (2012). Acupressure for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain conditions: A systematic review. Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain, 20, 116–121.

Kumar, S., Beaton, K., & Hughes, T. (2013). The effectiveness of massage therapy for the treatment of nonspecific low back pain: A systematic review of systematic reviews. International Journal of General Medicine, 6, 733-741.

Post-White, J., Fitzgerald, M., Savik, K., Hooke, M. C., Hannahan, A. B., & Sencer, S. F. (2009). Massage therapy for children with cancer. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, 26, 16–28.

Smith, M. C., Yamashita, T. E., Bryant, L. L., Hemphill, L., & Kutner, J. S. (2009). Providing massage therapy for people with advanced cancer: What to expect. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(4), 367-371.

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ApeGrade. (2022) 'Massage Therapy as an Alternative Medicine'. 16 April.

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