A photo of relaxing massage done to a male patient

Original Article and Video by Dr. Liza Ramoso-Ong

Having a massage feels good, but does it have health benefits? Massage is part of complementary and alternative medicine, but it has now been increasingly adopted for medical conditions.

It is defined as the pressing and rubbing of the skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Massage can be done lightly or with deep pressure. There are massage therapists and myotherapists who specialize in giving massage.

Doc Liza Ong and husband Doc Willie Ong teach some massage techniques.

Massage Therapists:

Massage therapists may use their fingers, knuckles, fist or elbows to massage a person. However, massage therapists vary in ability. A good massage therapist has proper training. They ask the patient what the problem is, and they can make an assessment on what type of massage to give a patient. They also refer more serious cases to the doctor.

On the other hand, a “bad” massage therapists may just routinely press on various muscles, which may unknowingly cause injury to the patient. I had a patient once who suffered a neck fracture after having a neck massage.


A myotherapist may have a broader range of techniques compared to a massage therapist. In addition to the regular massage, a myotherapist can use trigger point therapy and deep massage therapy to help treat specific muscle ailments and injuries.

A deep massage uses forceful strokes to relax deep and tight muscles. This can also help the patient heal faster from injury. A trigger point massage focuses on releasing certain knotted and tight muscle nodules. These trigger points form underneath the skin because of overuse or injury, and can cause pain.

Options During A Massage:

Usually, a massage therapist or myotherapist will use lotion or oil to reduce skin friction. A massage usually lasts from 15 minutes to 1 hour. If the massage is too soft and quick, you might not feel any relief. However, if the massage is too long and hard, then you could have pain afterwards. So tell the person if he or she is hurting you. A good therapist will apply just the right pressure for your condition.

Potential Benefits of Massage:

Treats low back pain

In several clinical trials, it was shown that massage is beneficial for those with chronic low back pain. The patient’s symptoms and daily function improved. The effects of these benefits may last up to 6 months. According to Dan Cherkin, Ph.D., massage appears to be as effective as medicines and exercise in reducing pain.

Relieves stress and promotes sleep

Studies show that massage may reduce blood pressure and helps induce sleep. The person feels more relaxed and less stressed. It is no wonder that many people fall asleep during a massage.

Reduces various aches and pains, like a headache

Massaging a certain portion of the body can reduce headache, neck  pain, back pain and sore muscles. There are specific massage techniques like kneading, friction and tapping that helps relieve the pain. A 2009 study showed that massage decreased the pain of individuals with tension headache, a headache caused by tight muscles.

May help treat muscle strains, tendinitis and injuries.

Sports injuries are common. Using a friction type of massage may help reduce the pain of tendinitis and other injuries. Massage also reduce DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness a bit. DOMS occurs 24 to 48 hours after vigorous exercise where the muscles feel painful. This generally resolves in 3 days.  

Reduces tightness and increases mobility

With a technique called muscle release (kneading of an aching muscle), the muscle will feel sore afterwards. However, the muscle eventually loosens up and stretches, reducing its tightness. Moreover, after an injury, early mobilization (movement) and doing range of motion exercises will help the patient heal faster. Stretching after a massage will also increase mobility. But stretching has to be done by a trained personnel to avoid injury. In addition, there is new theory about “fascial treatment.” The concept is that the fascia, a sheet of tough connective tissue located near muscles, can get tight and restrict movement. Hence, this needs to be released by manual massage. This area is still controversial and needs to be explored further.

Other potential benefits

Some studies revealed that massage improved vein circulation and lymphatic circulation. This may potentially help remove toxins from the body. Massage may also strengthen the body’s immune system, specifically the white blood cells of the body. Patients with cancer, HIV and other debilitating illness may benefit from the soothing and uplifting effects of a massage.

Risks Of Massage:

For most people, massage can be safe and beneficial. However, there could some risks for certain individuals.

Those patients with bleeding disorders or those taking medicines that thin the blood (like aspirin or warfarin) may be at risk for bleeding. Moreover, those with weak bones (osteoporosis), fractures or open wounds should not receive a massage.

Persons with varicose veins may only have gentle upward massage to avoid accidental vein trauma. Patients with stroke, unstable blood pressure or chronic medical conditions should ideally have a medical clearance first before getting a massage.

Common sense dictates that you should never let anyone step on your back for a massage. It could break your back. Also, make sure that the person doesn’t put pressure on the bony parts like the neck. The cervical bones could break, too.

In short, a gentle soft massage is safe for everyone, but a forceful massage given by an untrained person can cause complications, like trauma, bleeding or fracture. Ask your doctor first to be safe. Good luck.