In humans, physical stimulation, such as massage therapy, reduces stress and has demonstrable health benefits. Grooming in primates may have similar effects but it remains unclear whether the positive effects are due to physical contact or to its social value. Here we show that physical stimulation reduces stress in a coral reef fish, the surgeonfish Ctenochaetus striatus. These fish regularly visit cleaner wrasses Labroides dimidiatus to have ectoparasites removed. The cleanerfish influences client decisions by physically touching the surgeonfish with its pectoral and pelvic fins, a behaviour known as tactile stimulation. We simulated this behaviour by exposing surgeonfish to mechanically moving cleanerfish models. Surgeonfish had significantly lower levels of cortisol when stimulated by moving models compared with controls with access to stationary models. Our results show that physical contact alone, without a social aspect, is enough to produce fitness-enhancing benefits, a situation so far only demonstrated in humans.