A meta-analysis of massage therapy research

Psychol Bull. 2004 Jan;130(1):3-18. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.1.3.


Massage therapy (MT) is an ancient form of treatment that is now gaining popularity as part of the complementary and alternative medical therapy movement. A meta-analysis was conducted of studies that used random assignment to test the effectiveness of MT. Mean effect sizes were calculated from 37 studies for 9 dependent variables. Single applications of MT reduced state anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate but not negative mood, immediate assessment of pain, and cortisol level. Multiple applications reduced delayed assessment of pain. Reductions of trait anxiety and depression were MT's largest effects, with a course of treatment providing benefits similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy. No moderators were statistically significant, though continued testing is needed. The limitations of a medical model of MT are discussed, and it is proposed that new MT theories and research use a psychotherapy perspective.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Arousal
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Humans
  • Massage / psychology*
  • Psychotherapy