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Massage Today
September, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 09

Consumer Reports Survey Shines Positive Light on Massage Therapy

Public Gives Massage Consistently High Marks

By Editorial Staff

Twelve years ago, a groundbreaking study co-authored by Dr. David Eisenberg took a hard look at the use of alternative medicine in the United States.1 Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Eisenberg's study found that one out of every three adults in the U.S.

had used some type of "unconventional therapy," with massage ranking as the third most-popular therapy in the study. Subsequent studies by Eisenberg and other researchers have found that the use of alternative therapies has remained relatively stable, and that massage is being used to treat a wide variety of conditions, ranging from back problems to fatigue, arthritis, and muscle sprains.

Woman receives table massage. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark As these reports indicate, "alternative medicine" has become something of a misnomer. Just as the scientific world has investigated the use of alternative medicine by the American public, so have more mainstream media outlets. A case in point is Consumer Reports, a monthly magazine with a subscription base estimated at more than 4 million. In late 2004, Consumer Reports surveyed its readers regarding their use of both alternative and conventional therapies. The results of that survey, published in the August 2005 issue of the magazine, reveal that massage is one of the most popular forms of alternative care on the market, with both doctors and patients finding it extremely valuable in the treatment of certain conditions.

More than 34,000 readers participated in the survey, which asked them to rate the effectiveness of both conventional and alternative forms of care for their two most problematic health conditions experienced during the past two years. Readers were asked to rate each treatment depending on whether it helped "a lot," "somewhat," "a little," or "not at all." Respondents based their opinions of the effectiveness of care on personal experience, rather than scientific measurements.

Forty-seven percent of the respondents reported trying at least one alternative remedy in the past two years, a figure slightly higher than reported in the Eisenberg studies, yet in keeping with other national surveys on alternative medicine use. In addition, women were more likely than men to have tried, and liked, "hands-on" treatments such as massage, chiropractic and acupuncture.In terms of managing individual conditions, deep-tissue massage ranked first out of five methods of treating fibromyalgia (deep-tissue massage, prescription drugs, general exercise, physical therapy, and over-the-counter drugs), and first out of 10 methods of treating osteoarthritis (deep-tissue massage, prescribed exercise, physical therapy, general exercise, prescription drugs, chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, special diet, glucosamine, and over-the-counter drugs). Specifically, for both conditions, more readers said deep-tissue massage "helped me feel much better" than any of the other treatment strategies. Over-the-counter drugs finished last in both categories.

Massage also received high ratings among readers who turned to alternative treatments for back and neck pain. In both categories, deep-tissue massage ranked a close second to chiropractic treatment, with nearly three-fourths of readers saying massage either "helped me feel much better" or "helped me somewhat."

In another sign of massage therapy's popularity and effectiveness, massage appeared to have the approval of many of the doctors Consumer Reports' readers spoke with. Of those readers who had used an alternative therapy, approximately 75 percent told their doctors about it. Twenty-five percent of those readers told Consumer Reports their doctor suggested the alternative treatment in the first place. In fact, massage was the second most frequently recommended alternative treatment by the readers' doctors, ranking just behind the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin.

In a review of the Consumer Reports survey, published on, Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute in Miami, Fla., observed that the right amount of pressure applied to the body's muscles and soft tissues could produce a "cascade" of biological effects responsible for the positive sensations associated with massage.

"We are finding that moderate pressure is essential for any of the effects we see from massage," Field said. "That may be one way chiropractic works, because typically a chiropractor applies moderate pressure. So does just about any sport that you do - or any self-massage exercises like yoga. Anything that stimulates the body's pressure receptors will help."

It has been 12 years since the publication of David Eisenberg's landmark study on "unconventional medicine." While the Consumer Reports survey can't be considered in the same vein (scientifically speaking) as that study, several important points from the survey's results are evident - and in some ways, just as relevant. First, alternative medicine is continuing to increase in popularity; nearly half of those taking the survey reported using at least one form of alternative treatment in the previous 24 months. Second, the American public is relying more and more on alternative forms of care such as massage therapy to help them. And third, the survey shows what millions of Americans already know: Massage is popular, safe and extremely effective for a variety of complaints and conditions.


  1. Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Foster C, et al. Unconventional medicine in the United States. Prevalence, costs, and patterns of use. The New England Journal of Medicine 1993;328:246-52.
  2. Which alternative treatments work? Consumer Reports August 2005;70:39-43.
  3. DeNoon D. Massage, chiropractic top medical alternatives. WebMD Medical News, June 30, 2005.


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