Therapeutic Massage – The Perfect Antidote to Stress
An overview of the art, practice and profession of massage therapy including information on benefits, clinical results, consumer statistics, research, education and training requirements, professional practice, and how to locate a licensed massage therapist.

July 13th 2017 - by Hallie Sawyers, LMT APP BCTMB

According to the New York State Board of Education, the practice of massage therapy is described as “engaging in applying a scientific system of activity to the muscular structure of the human body by means of stroking, kneading, tapping and vibrating with the hands or vibrators for the purpose of improving muscle tone and circulation.” (1)

These words attempt to describe a hands-on therapy that is one of the oldest among all methods of healing. As far back as the 4th century B.C., Hippocrates, known as the "father of medicine," indicated massage when he wrote: "The physician must be acquainted with many things, and assuredly with rubbing." (2)

Though the terminology to describe and define the art, practice, and profession of massage therapy has evolved considerably from ‘rubbing,’ the original physicians of our times knew that touch was a primary method through which physiological benefits could be produced. Combining touch with specific technique, knowledge, intention and skill, massage therapy, in all of its various forms, boasts a long list of impressive benefits.


The cumulative effect of receiving a massage seems to go beyond the simplicity and miracle of just being touched. There are physical, mental and emotional benefits keyed into action through the millions of sensory receptors in the skin. The relaxation response prompts the body to reset its inner equilibrium and return to greater health and well being. And this all translates into a significant number of tangible results. The physical benefits of receiving therapeutic massage are rich and varied:

a deep sense of relaxation and reduced stress
healthier, better nourished skin
relief of muscle tension stiffness, spasm and pain
better circulation of both blood and lymph
faster recovery from muscle strains and sprains
reduced blood pressure
greater joint flexibility and range of motion
improved immune function
increased ease and efficiency of overall movement
increased disease prevention
reduced formation of scar tissue
a relaxed state of alertness
improved posture
a calmer mind
deeper and easier breathing
increased capacity for clearer thinking
relief of tension-related headaches and eye strain
greater ability to monitor stress signals

And finally, the emotional rewards of massage include a feeling of well-being, ease of emotional expression, fulfillment of the need for caring and nurturing touch. Enhanced self-image, reduced levels of anxiety, and increased awareness of body-mind connection all produce a feeling of being unified and in harmony with self and the world. Who doesn’t need all this to simply navigate each day in our tension-filled, on-the-go culture?


If this description has not convinced you of the value of therapeutic massage, then perhaps a clinical tour will: Though every bodily system is affected by this therapy, the circulatory system is one the main beneficiaries. Vasodilation is one of the primary effects, improving the general circulation of all bodily tissues. As the blood supply expands, there is an increase in the interchange of substances across the cell wall, heightening tissue metabolism.

Fresh oxygen and nutrients flush the muscle cells of debris, such as lactic acid. Connective tissue is stretched, improving its circulation and breaking down or preventing the formation of adhesions. Muscle tone is also improved, helping to prevent or delay atrophy resulting from forced inactivity.

When the benefits of massage reach the digestive arena, peristalsis is encouraged. The overload that results from re-absorption of toxins due to constipation is prevented. Acting as a ‘mechanical cleanser,’ massage also mobilizes lymph and hastens its elimination from the body.

Inflammation is on the list of beneficiaries too: massage disperses edema, alleviates pain and facilitates movement, especially as a part of post-injury care. The urinary system benefits as the kidneys are stimulated by enhanced circulation, increasing the renal excretion of fluids, nitrogen, inorganic phosphorus, and salt in normal individuals. And let’s not forget the heart itself: massage supports the return of venous blood, easing the strain on this vital organ. This compensates, in part, for lack of exercise incurred as a result of injury, illness or age. Finally, massage just makes you feel relaxed – a positive result of the sedative effect it has on the nervous system.


Perhaps due to this wide array of benefits, the general public has increasingly turned to massage therapy as a method of preventative, acute and chronic care. A survey by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, indicates “approximately 38 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 years and over and approximately 12 percent of children use some form of CAM.” (3) Massage was among the CAM therapies with significant increases in use between 2002 and 2007, rising from 5 to 8.3 percent among adults. (4)

Now that we’ve explored the history, benefits, clinical results, and consumer statistics related to therapeutic massage, the second part of this article will go on to look at research corroborating the effects of massage, education and training requirements for licensed massage therapists, what takes place in a session, and how to locate a licensed massage therapist.

MEASURABLE RESULTS - Massage Research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

In October 2010, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine featured an article entitled “A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals.”(5) The research study was conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and the purpose of the study was to determine effects of a single massage session on neuroendocrine and immune function.

53 healthy adults, ranging in age from 18–45, were split into two groups. One group received Swedish massage, while the other received what was described as light touch. Blood samples were taken immediately before and up to an hour after receiving the therapies. The results were impressive, indicating that Swedish massage produced increases in the number of lymphocytes - white blood cells that are part of the immune system. Lymphocytes include natural killer cells which defend against tumors and virally infected cells, as well as T cells and B cells which act to eliminate specific pathogens or pathogen-infected cells. Swedish massage was also shown to decrease the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and arginine vasopressin, a hormone that can lead to increases in cortisol. The volunteers who had the light touch massage experienced greater increases in oxytocin, a hormone associated with contentment, than the Swedish massage group, and bigger decreases in adrenal corticotropin hormone, which stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol.

This evidence offers a deeper physiological look at how massage supports the healthy functioning of our immune systems as well as corroborating anecdotal findings of millions of consumers: massage is an antidote to stress and just makes you feel good.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING - Requirements for Massage Therapy

If you are thinking of joining the growing ranks of massage enthusiasts by referring a client or booking an appointment for yourself, you might be interested in the level of training necessary to become a massage therapist. The profession itself has come a long way beyond the ‘rubbing’ of which Hippocrates spoke. The practice of massage therapy currently requires licensure or certification in most states. According to a massage regulation guide maintained by The Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (6), massage therapists are licensed in 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

In the 43 states that require regulation, each designates a mandatory number of educational hours and either a licensing or certification exam necessary to qualify for the official state designation. The number of required educational hours range from 500 to 1000, with New York, Nebraska, and Puerto Rico leading the charge as the only states currently requiring the maximum of 1000 hours of study.

As an example of the most stringent licensure requirements, to be eligible to take the massage therapy licensing exam in New York, the 1000 hours of study must be provided by a school or institute of massage therapy with a program registered by the State Education Department. The 1000 hours of study provided in this setting must cover coursework in: anatomy, physiology, neurology, myology or kinesiology, pathology, the theory, technique and practice of western massage/bodywork therapy, the chemical ingredients of products that are used and their effects, the theory, technique and practice of oriental massage/bodywork therapy, infection control procedures, hygiene, first aid and CPR.(7)

As a part of the 1000 hours, a minimum of 150 hours of supervised, hands-on practice is required which offers valuable experience in a professional setting. This clearly defined curriculum solidly prepares the student for the licensing as well as real-life application of their chosen profession.


Though the level of training commands respect and consumer consumption of massage is on the rise, there are still people who have never experienced it. So it seems fitting to briefly describe what takes place in a session for those who are unfamiliar with this healing method. First-time clients are asked to fill out an intake form which reviews personal medical history, current medications and reasons for scheduling an appointment. Most massage sessions are about 60 minutes in length, though 90 minute sessions are not uncommon, and 30 or 45 minutes of specific work can be productive for a very focused area of the body, such as a problem knee or shoulder.

The session often begins with the recipient lying face down between sheets on a massage table. The therapist uses lotion or oil to massage tension out of the muscles, uncovering only the areas of the body that are being worked. While lying prone (face down), the areas addressed are the plantar aspects of each foot (the soles), posterior legs, arms, back, neck and shoulders. Then the recipient turns supine (face up) and the therapist moves on to work with the scalp, facial muscles, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, legs and feet again. The result is a feeling of total and complete inner peace and relaxation. In fact, falling asleep or entering a deep meditative state of mind is a common response to receiving massage.


At this point, you might be saying ‘Sign me up!’ If you are wondering how to find a licensed massage therapist, there are many professional associations which list massage therapists by state. A few of these include:

Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals:

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork:

By Region Community Directory:

Whatever you do, don’t delay in treating yourself to this wonderful experience.

Professional Profile

Hallie Sawyers is the founder of Soul Song and a well known, respected educator with extensive training in energy work and body-centered therapies. Her mission highlights creating transformation on personal and professional levels through quality education in alternative approaches to prevention and wellness. She is a Traditional Usui Reiki Master Teacher, certified in reflexology and polarity therapy, a Master Instructor of Integrated Energy Therapy, Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Holistic Aromatherapy, and an approved CEU provider for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and New York State. She offers individual appointments, lectures and training in Reiki, Integrated Energy Therapy, Hot Stone Massage, Reflexology, and Aromatherapy in New York, Connecticut and other areas by request. To schedule an appointment, lecture or class, you can reach Hallie at 585.967.0009 or visit

Contact Member:
Hallie Sawyers, LMT APP BCTMB
Soul Song
United States
Other than specifically noted credits, the information in this article is derived from the Hallie's individual and teaching practice of therapeutic massage since 1996.

To schedule a class, lecture, or individual appointment in therapeutic massage, contact Hallie by email or visit her website:

(1) New York State, Office of the Professions, Massage Therapy Licensing Requirements, Definition of Practice of Massage Therapy, Section 7801,

(2) What Is Massage Therapy, Massage Today Magazine,

(3) 2007 Statistics on CAM Use in the United States, National Health Interview Survey, National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine,

(4) 2007 Statistics on CAM Use in the United States, National Health Interview Survey, National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Downloadable Graphics on CAM Use in the United States,

(5) Mark Hyman Rapaport, Pamela Schettler, Catherine Bresee. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. October 2010, 16(10): 1079-1088. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0634. (6), a public education site powered by The Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, Careers, State Boards and Requirements,

(7) New York State, Office of the Professions, Massage Therapy Licensing Requirements, Education Requirement, Section 7801,