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Massage therapy is a system of treatment of the soft tissue of the body. It involves stroking, kneading or applying pressure to various parts of the body, with the aim of alleviating aches, pains and musculoskeletal problems (problems relating to the bone and muscle structure of the body, such as headaches and back pain).

Different types of massage

Massage is a very old practice, and it has developed in different ways in different parts of the world, such as Scandanavia, India and Thailand.

What is massage commonly used for?

Massage is used for pain relief, muscular or joint problems such as arthritis or sports injuries, to aid relaxation, and for more general health improvement. Massage therapists also treat anxiety, depression and constipation. Research has shown that therapeutic massage can help with stress-related conditions such as insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue.

Massage is also used to help people with acute or short-term anxiety. This includes patients in intensive care, psychiatric institutions and hospices. With premature babies, massage can help achieve more rapid weight gain and development. People with chronic (long-term) conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and ME, may find they can benefit from massage.

What will happen when I see a massage practitioner?

Before carrying out the massage, the practitioner will ask questions about your medical history, diet, lifestyle, and whether you have specific aches, pains or tensions that you are concerned about.

The most common way of performing massage is on a therapy couch. The patient lies on the treatment couch, usually face down for half the session and face up for the other half. As the practitioner has to work on most areas of the body, you would normally remove most of your clothes, apart from underwear. The practitioner will usually cover you and keep you warm with one or two large towels.

Treatment may also be given with the patient on a mat on the floor or seated in a chair. Certain types of massage, such as Thai massage, can also be performed through light loose clothing.

No professional therapy practitioner should ever provide massage in the genital area, or touch the patient in a way that is sexual.


A massage therapist will need to be extra careful if you have certain physical complaints. These include varicose veins, bone fractures, swelling, bruising, cuts or infections. It is very important to tell your massage therapist about any physical problems you have, even if you don’t think they are relevant to your current health situation.

Massage can be used with pregnant women, babies and people with cancer, but in these cases it should only be given by a practitioner who is experienced with these conditions.

This information in taken from Complementary Healthcare: a guide for patients, consultation draft, The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, March 2004, and reproduced with kind permission.

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