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Massage Therapy: What’s Real & What’s Myth

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By: Ken Orr, LMT & Reflexologist


The Real & Mythical

What’s real about massage?  Over 45 million adult Americans use massage services annually.  Less than half of all adult Americans have experienced a massage in their lifetimes.  The U.S. lags behind many other countries where massage is considered a trusted and useful medical option.  An estimated 25 million more adult Americans receive massages every year than ten years ago. Several studies conducted during 2009-2010 revealed that consumer demand for massage has declined since 2008.  This is due, in large part, to the economic slump.  According to an American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) annual study, only 10% of male adult Americans received at least one massage last year, compared to 18% in 2009.  In contrast, 25% of women had massages, a 1% decline since 2009.  During 2010, 18% of adult Americans scheduled at least one massage, down from 22% the prior year and the lowest participation since 2004.


A 2009 study by Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) indicated that 1 in 6 adult Americans received a massage.  From 2004-2007 there was a sharp rise in adult males choosing massage.  A big decline in doctors’ visits and affordability issues were major causes of the recent decrease in male participation.  Most people are motivated to get massages through medical recommendations and cashing in on gifts.  Both consumer surveys consistently found that the vast majority of Americans view massage favorably and know something about its benefits.  Some 85% of adult Americans expressed positive feelings about Massage Therapists and their most recent massage.   Of all adult Americans, 8 in 10 agree that massage benefits health and wellness.


Why do they get massages?


  • (1)    4 in 10 for stress relief
  • (2)    Over one-third, relaxation and restoration
  • (3)    One-third, relief from pain and sore muscles
  • (4)    About one-third use gifts
  • (5)    8 in 10 had favorable massage experiences


Recent surveys suggest that during a 12 month period only a small percentage of clients schedule massages on a regular basis.  Considerable research shows that frequent sessions can greatly enhance therapeutic benefits and result in more lasting therapeutic effects.


  • (1)    Over half had 1-2 sessions over 12 months
  • (2)    Less than 10% scheduled 1-2 times monthly
  • (3)    4 in 10 clients booked 3-11 sessions annually


In August 2005, Consumer Reports (CR) declared “Alternative medicine has come of age”.  The CR study was drawn from a survey of 34,000 readers (largely higher income, older and well educated).  Massage was particularly effective treating stress, chronic pain, anxiety, muscle tightness and soreness, depression, inflammation, high blood pressure and recovery from illness, injury and surgery.  During the last decade many studies have concluded that massage has emerged as the top alternative remedy for a variety of health concerns, surpassing chiropractic care and physical therapy.  Findings from a 10 week study (2011) conducted by Oregon Health & Science University strongly suggests that regular massages (structural or relaxation) are more effective for helping chronic back pain sufferers than the usual conventional approaches.  Two-thirds of the massage group showed substantial improvement compared to only one-third who had the usual treatment plans.  With only a 10 week massage plan, some of the positive effects were gone after six months; all of the benefits after a year.


What’s myth about massage?  Although massage is rooted in human history dating back thousands of years, today many people share misconceptions and myths about massage therapy.  This lack of understanding stems from preconceived notions and cultural myths.  Not long ago, the common public perceptions of massage were described as pampering and pleasure-oriented.  In recent years, massage has slowly entered into the mainstream with volumes of research on health benefits; the proliferation of massage schools, spas and storefront massage businesses; the slow acceptance of alternative health practices by the corporate medical community and insurance companies; mass exposure in the media; and the continued growth of the holistic and natural health movements.


As more people are making their own choices about personal health and wellness (embracing wellness plans and making more health-conscious decisions), it is vitally important to educate oneself about natural and alternative health options.  Massage is one of those choices that can help a person reach for better health, vitality and well-being; provide stress relief and pain management; address specific health issues; speed recovery from illness, injury and surgery; in-grain self-improvement and self-help in one’s thinking; promote positive changes in mind, body and subtle energies.  Abundant research indicates that massage is a natural way for relaxing and restoring yourself, energizing one’s spirit and resting the mind and body.  Although U.S. clinical research on the therapeutic benefits of massage was seriously lacking until the 1990s, there are 130 years of Western research (mostly in Europe) and hundreds of years in the East (mostly Chinese).  Some argue that evidence dates back thousands of years in ancient cultures.


Myth:  Massage therapy is a luxury.  Many people still describe massage as pampering, a feel-good experience, or a luxury.  In fact, less than 10% of those receiving massages perceive it as a necessity in life (regular sessions).  Some other findings: Massage helps to release toxins and wastes; relieve allergies and headaches; boost the immune system; release lymph drainage; enhance emotional well-being; increase energy vitality; promote restful sleep; lessen computer strain; improve joint mobility and posture; enhance job performance.


Myth:  It costs too much.  In this economy, look for discount deals from experienced Massage Therapists who have extensive knowledge and expertise.  When you make it a personal and budget priority, ask for payment plan options.  Depending on your insurance policy or requirements for health expense accounts, you may be reimbursed for the massages.


Myth: “I felt bad (or got sick) after a massage.  I won’t get one again.”  Common responses to massage are brief soreness, detox process with nausea, dizziness or other minor symptoms.  The initial reaction to a massage is often deep relaxation, followed by an energized feeling or the need to sleep or rest.  The latter usually indicates that you are in overload.  When you experience an ill feeling after a session, it is likely that you are processing toxins and wastes or bringing an existing problem to the surface.  Clients who are given conventional cancer treatments may have intense detox symptoms and sick feelings after a session.  In this case, it’s best to have a doctor’s approval for massages and decide when the massage is most appropriate for the healing process.


Some Journal Entries On The Benefits Of Massage       


Spinal Cord Injuries: Improved functional abilities; range of motion and muscle strength.

International Journal of Neuroscience, 2002


Pregnant Women: Reduced pain; alleviated prenatal depression; improved spousal relations; lowered early delivery dates.   Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 2008


Company Employees: Over 100 employees received regular massage sessions (on-site Chair Massage, Foot or Hand Reflexology) for 6-12 month periods.  Each person scheduled 30-45 minute sessions once every 1-2 weeks.  Reduced job stress; better attitude and performance; improved posture and joint mobility; decreased pain and discomfort from computer strain; enhanced mental alertness; improved finger dexterity and hand movements.   Independent Study by Kenneth Orr, LMT, 2002-2009


Breast Cancer: Reduced anxiety and depression; improved immune function including lymph system.

Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2003


Fibromyalgia: Improved sleep patterns; decreased pain, fatigue, anxiety and depression; lower cortisol levels.  Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, 1996, Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 2003


Wellness, Stress & Well-Being


Massage therapy can be used with any wellness or fitness plan.  It works effectively as a complimentary therapy in unison with conventional, alternative or holistic approaches to health issues.   It can help motivate people to improve diet, exercise programs and make other positive lifestyle changes.  To put it simply, stress is a factor in everyone’s life.  The cumulative negative effects of stress have been well documented.  Over 80% of all diseases and illnesses are linked to stress as a primary or secondary factor.  Among others, poor concentration, chronic pain, body system imbalances, lowered immune system, emotional and physical discomfort, burnout and unhappiness are manifestations of stress.  Consistent use of massage services (whether it is Table Massage, Reflexology, Chair Massage or other healing arts) can reinforce its benefits.  Your quality of life, overall health and well-being can be enhanced by using regular massage services.  Massage Therapy typically gives you short term relief of symptoms and the benefits are cumulative over time.  Your quality of life, overall health and wellness can be greatly improved with regular massage sessions.


Ken Orr is a local LMT & Reflexologist who has a practice in the Dallas area.

Business phone: 972-238-5145




2011 ©   Kenneth Orr, LMT      All Rights Reserved


The material contained in this article is provided for information and educational purposes.  It is not intended as medical advice.  Licensed Massage Therapists (LMTs) do not: (1) diagnose illness, disease, or any other physical/mental disorder; (2) prescribe medical treatment or pharmaceuticals; (3) perform spinal manipulations.  LMTs and Massage Therapy are not a substitute for medical examinations or diagnosis.  Consult with a physician or alternative health practitioner when you may have a disease, illness, injury or related health issues.  All client information is held in strict confidence.