Massage Therapy for Stress


Everyone feels stress from time to time, whether it’s personally, professionally, or as a response to specific events. Stress is not a pleasant feeling, and sometimes it lingers over several days, weeks, or even months. Very few people, however, stop to think about what stress really is, and how stress is physically impacting their bodies. Massage therapy is a great way to alleviate the physical symptoms associated with stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stress can result from a wide variety of factors, including external factors (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal factors (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the "fight or flight" response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems, and can negatively influence many health issues.1

Physical Symptoms of Stress

Stress can contribute to or worsen a range of other health problems. Studies have shown that individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain, specifically related to conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis, when exposed to stressors, reported increased pain intensity.2 Stress is also a common trigger for tension-type headaches and several studies have reported stress as a trigger for headaches between 71 and 97% of the time, and stress intensity is associated with headaches in individuals with both tension-type headaches and migraines.3

Stress has been associated with other types of physical pain as well. There is a significant association between perceived stress and musculoskeletal pain, particularly in adolescents.4 When it comes to work-related stress, in particular, both men and women who find work stressful most of the time have an increased risk of experiencing chronic neck and shoulder pain.5

Massage Therapy Can Help

Massage therapy is a non-invasive, evidence-based healthcare option that can address many of these physical symptoms caused by stress. Many people feel the physical effects of their stress in their shoulders, and massage therapy can be an effective treatment for shoulder tightness.6 Tension-type headaches are also a relatively common stress response, and massage therapy has been found to decrease the frequency and duration of headaches in chronic tension headache sufferers.7

Stress can come from a variety of situations and environments, and work stress is particularly common. On-site massage offered in a workplace can be effective for decreasing the duration of musculoskeletal ache, pain, or discomfort and for increasing range of motion.8 There are some occupations that regularly experience more stressful situations than others, and a recent study found that massage therapy provided regularly to intensive care nurses was effective in reducing stress, promoting mental health and increasing the quality of nursing work life.9

Ask Your RMT

Feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders? Massage therapy can relieve the physical symptoms caused by various types of stress. Many people suffer from chronic stress, but there’s no need to suffer in silence. If your stress is causing you pain, ask your RMT how they can help

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  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2017). Stress. Retrieved on September 6, 2017 from [link]
  2. Nixon, A.E., Mazzola, J.J., Bauer, J., Krueger, J.R., Spector, P.E. (2011). Can work make you sick? A meta-analysis of the relationships between job stressors and physical symptoms. Work & Stress, 25(1):1-22. [link]
  3. Martin, P.R. (2016) Stress and primary headache: Review of the research and clinical management. Curr Pain Headache Rep, 20(7):45. [link]
  4. Østerås, B., Sigmundsson, H., Haga, M. (2015). Perceived stress and musculoskeletal pain are prevalent and significantly associated in adolescents: an epidemiological cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health, 15:1081. [link]
  5. Fanavoll, R., Nilsen, T.I.L., Holtermann, A., Mork, P.J. (2016). Psychosocial work stress, leisure time physical exercise and the risk of chronic pain in the neck/shoulders: Longitudinal data from the Norwegian HUNT Study. Int Occup MedEnviron Health, 29(4):585-595. [link]
  6. Yang, J.L., Chen, S.Y., Hsieh, C.L., Lin, J.J. (2012). Effects and predictors of shoulder muscle massage for patients with posterior shoulder tightness. BMC Musculoskelet Disord, 13:46. [link]
  7. Quinn, C., Chandler, C., Moraska, A. (2001). Massage therapy and frequency of chronic tension headaches. Am J Public Health, 92(10):1657–1661. [link]
  8. Siško, P.K., Videmšek, M., Karpljuk, D. (2011). The effect of a corporate chair massage program on musculoskeletal discomfort and joint range of motion in office workers. J Altern Complement Med, 17(7):617-622. [link]
  9. Nazari, F., Mirzamohamadi, M., Yousefi, H. (2015). The effect of massage therapy on occupational stress of Intensive Care Unit nurses. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res, 20(4):508–515. [link]


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Tags: benefits of massage therapy, stress