How to Use Massage for Weight Loss

woman getting a massage

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A relaxing massage is a wonderful way to destress and care for your body. In research studies, massage has been associated with various health benefits including improved mood and better health-related quality of life when compared to other treatments.

Some people turn to massage as a weight-loss strategy. But understanding the benefits of massage can be tricky because research is somewhat limited and not always high quality. Many purported benefits are not supported by strong clinical evidence. Weight loss is not likely to be directly affected by massage, but massage may still support your weight-loss efforts.

Weight Loss Benefits of Massage

Massage therapy can work wonders for anyone, including those who are trying to lose weight. But massage treatment alone doesn’t necessarily make weight loss occur.

While research investigating the relationship between weight loss and massage is limited, at least one study found no significant changes in body weight or body mass index (BMI) when massage was combined with acupuncture in women with obesity. But researchers are interested in the role that massage might play in the treatment of obesity, and studies are ongoing.

Of course, the lack of evidence doesn't mean that massage can't play a role in losing weight. There is some evidence that massage can provide certain benefits that might improve the way your body moves and feels throughout the day—making your weight loss journey more comfortable.

Decreases Muscle Soreness

If you are exercising as a part of your weight loss program, massage may help your body to heal faster and feel better after a tough workout.

A 2014 research review published in the Journal of Athletic Training investigated how massage might play a role in the treatment or prevention of musculoskeletal conditions or conditions associated with chronic pain. Study authors wanted to know how massage affects muscle tissue on the cellular level and how it might affect pain and inflammation.

Study authors found clinical evidence suggesting that massage therapy can help to improve muscle recovery after exercise. But they added that more high quality studies need to be conducted.

Another large-scale research review, published in 2017, found that massage therapy could be effective for alleviating delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after strenuous exercise and may even have the potential to improve exercise performance.

Improves Range of Motion

The phrase "range of motion" refers to the movement potential of a particular joint. For example, if you feel that you have tight hips, that is an area where you probably have a limited range of motion. If you have joints that feel loose, those are areas where you probably have greater range of motion. If your joints move comfortably and efficiently, it may inspire you to stay more active throughout the day.

One factor that can affect range of motion in your joints is muscle soreness. When your muscles ache or feel tight after a workout, then range of motion is usually affected. Studies suggesting that massage can improve DOMS also note that better joint range of motion also occurs as a result.

Other studies have investigated how massage may improve range of motion in specific areas of the body. One 2017 review found that massage can improve range of motion in the shoulder, especially shoulder flexion (lifting the arm up) and abduction (lifting the arm out and away from the body). Study authors noted that massage may be particularly helpful for those who have shoulder pain or impaired shoulder function.

Another 2017 study found that calf muscle massage may be effective for enhancing flexibility and balance in the ankle joint.

Relieves Stress

Many people choose to get a massage to relax and relieve stress. Research backs up this popular belief. One research review published in 2014 compared the benefits of moderate-pressure massage with light-pressure massage.

Study authors found evidence that moderate-pressure massage affected all areas of the brain involved in stress and emotion regulation. Massage provided a relaxation response that included benefits such as reduced depression, lower anxiety and heart rate, and decreased cortisol levels.

Other studies have investigated the benefits of massage on occupational stress. Authors of one study recommended massage for nurses in intensive care units to reduce stress, promote mental health, and prevent a decrease in quality of nursing work life. Another study suggested that massage therapy can effectively reduce occupational stress for a wide range of staff in emergency medical centers.

Researchers know that stress can make weight loss harder. Studies have shown that stress is associated with changes in dietary preference, food intake, weight gain, and fat gain. While researchers don't know why stress has this impact, the evidence that links massage to reduced stress can provide a possible solution for people seeking stress management options.

Supports Healthy Sleep

If you're trying to lose weight, getting a better night's sleep can increase your chances of reaching your goal. One study published in the journal Obesity found that better sleep increased the likelihood of weight loss success by 33%. Sleeping more than seven hours per night also increased the chances of weight loss.

The link between massage and sleep quality has been investigated in several studies. One study found that postmenopausal women reported less insomnia (and fewer other postmenopausal symptoms) after getting massage therapy.

And another study looked at how aromatherapy massage might be able to improve sleep in nurses who work rotating night shifts. Study authors found that the massage treatment helped many of them sleep better and perform better during the day.

Types of Massage

Most spas and massage therapy clinics offer a variety of massage styles. While they are similar, each treatment has unique characteristics. Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP), a professional organization for massage therapists, provides description of several popular types of massage.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is one of the most popular forms of massage. It is often referred to as classic massage.

Interestingly, the practice was not invented by a Swede nor developed in Sweden, according to ABMP. Rather, it was a Dutch man (Johan Georg Mezger) who first used the French names that define the basic massage strokes: effleurage, petrissage, frictions, and tapotement.

As part of a Swedish massage, the therapist generally uses massage oil or lotion. The lubricant helps to reduce friction and provides an aromatherapy experience to support relaxation. This type of massage uses five different types of touching: kneading, rolling, vibrational, tapping, and percussive movements that work help to stimulate circulation and provide relaxation.

Deep Tissue Massage

This massage begins with classic techniques to relax the outer layers of skin and muscle. But then the practitioner massages your body's fascia—deep connective tissue that provides structure and helps join your body parts together.

This intense treatment is often used to address chronic muscular pain, in injury rehabilitation, and to reduce inflammation-related pain caused by arthritis and tendonitis.

Lymphatic Massage

Lymphatic massage is a form of bodywork that address the lymphatic system to help it function better. The lymphatic system carries white blood cells and other immune cells through a network of vessels and tissues, including your lymph nodes. It also serves as a connection between tissues and the bloodstream, performing several functions such as removing dead blood cells and other waste.

Most lymph vessels are located right under the skin. During this treatment, the therapist uses light pressure in a rhythmic, circular motion to stimulate the lymph system to work more efficiently and help it move the lymph fluids back to the heart.

A Word From Verywell

Massage can be a helpful part of a comprehensive weight loss program. It may help to relieve stress, make your muscles feel better after a workout, and may even help you get a better night's sleep. But it's important to keep your expectations in check.  Some purported benefits of massage are not supported by strong evidence.

If you invest in a massage treatment, communicate with your practitioner about your needs and expectations. They can help provide advice about the best type of massage for you and provide further guidance about what to do before and after your service to maximize the benefits that massage can provide.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can massage break up fat deposits?

    There is some evidence that certain types of mechanical massage can help to address adipose tissue (fat deposits) or cellulite. These types of massage use vibrational tools or other devices generally found in dermatology practices or medi-spas. Independent research regarding their effectiveness is limited and somewhat contradictory.

  • Which massage oil is best for weight loss?

    There is no massage oil that specifically provides weight loss effects. But many massage oils have scents that provide aromatherapy benefits. Your therapist can provide options to suit your preferences. You can also purchase oils to address specific benefits. For example, many people appreciate the calming effects of chamomile or the stimulating effects of rosemary or peppermint.

  • How can I use a massage gun for weight loss?

    Massage guns provide percussive vibrations to muscles to help relieve soreness. There is no strong evidence directly tying use of the devices to weight loss. Generally they are used to relieve muscle soreness and the effectiveness of the treatment depends on how well you use the device.

  • Does scalp massage promote weight loss?

    Scalp massage can help you to feel good and relax, just like a total body massage. Scalp massage is more convenient for many people because it takes less time and does not require that you undress and treat the body with oil. But there is no strong evidence linking scalp massage to weight loss.

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