Don’t throw the massage therapist out of the workplace

In the past I’ve been concerned to find that several organisations’ approach to stress management has been to simply bring in a massage therapist once a month.  So should the recent headline “Massage is no better at beating stress than deep breathing and soft music” prompt employers to keep their hands in their pockets?  Actually, no!

The Seattle-based researchers who prompted the headline, had conducted a study on just 68 participants and found that all three treatments – relaxing room therapy (deep breathing whilst listening to relaxing music), thermotherapy (warm towels wrapped around arms and legs), and massage – lowered their anxiety levels.

So, if reducing anxiety levels is the employer’s only aim, then this might encourage them to switch to the lower cost method of teaching staff diaphragmatic breathing and playing them some nice soothing music.  However, before cancelling the therapist, consider the following:

  • Anxiety is only one of many psychological symptoms of stress.  Stress manifests in physical and behavioural symptoms too.
  • Many people store stress in the form of tension – especially in the upper body, arms and hands – which massage can play a role in releasing (Indeed, the lead researchers in this latest study previously found that massage has clinical benefits for treating chronic neck pain, and is effective for treating persistent back pain).
  • When we spend so much time away from our loved ones and in work, the benefits of therapeutic touch can not be under-estimated.  There’s quite a lot of science behind the benefits of touch – including the fact that children who are never held don’t grow very tall.
  • It’s all too easy for staff to sit at their desks all day, never taking a break, under the misconception that putting in the hours equates to productivity.  Instead, it’s been found that taking short breaks leads to improvements in energy, concentration and productivity.  But often people feel they need a good excuse or permission to take a break – a massage therapist provides this.
  • Robust research shows us that employees want to feel valued and cared for.  Paying for a therapist and allowing staff to visit him/her during working hours may contribute to achieving this.And finally, you don’t need to set a darkened room aside for relaxation purposes – many massage therapists can provide a good therapeutic service in the office.

But whether you stick with your therapists, encourage staff to breathe more easily & listen to music, do both or do neither, please remember to tackle the causes of stress too.

For more info on the research see:


Karen J. Sherman, K.J., Ludman, E.J., Cook, A.J., Hawkes, R.J., Roy-Byrne, P.P., Bentley, S.B., Brooks, M.Z., & Cherkin, D.C. (2009).   Effectiveness of therapeutic massage for generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Depression and Anxiety, 1091-4269

Sherman, K.J., Cherkin, D.C., Hawkes, R.J., Migliorettie, D.L., & Devo, R.A. (2009). Randomized trial of therapeutic massage for chronic neck pain.  The Clinical Journal of Pain, 25. 233-238

Cherkin, D.C., Sherman, K.J., Devo, R.A., & Shekelle, P.G. (2003). A review of the evidence for the effectiveness, safety, and cost of acupuncture, massage therapy, and spinal manipulation for back pain. Annals of Internal Medicine, 138, 898-908

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