Massage decreased pain, and improved mental health in this study but the result on mental health disappeared after week 8, which marked the end of receiving weekly massages. In other words, massages made them feel progressively better, until they stopped receiving them, which understandably made their numbers plummet. Interestingly, 1 hour of massage weekly out performed 2 1/2 hours of weekly meditation and yoga coupled with daily meditation audio tapes in both pain and mental health.
Another study showed that the relaxation brought on by massage may have a wide variety of health benefits, although it lacks the rigors of good science (no control group or placebo control). Improving immune function is a very old claim, but it does seem to have some validity. These subjects were med school students who were stressed already and worried about an upcoming exam. Check out the results for yourself
Massage seems to get its biggest boost from studies done with various cancer patients. Once you throw aside myths about spreading cancer via lymph or circulation changes, you can make a huge difference in the well being of individuals who most need it. Interesting to note, this study showed the decrease in stress and anxiety, but no corresponding drop in cortisol. It seems to me, that cortisol is a Red Herring.
Very often, when a therapist wants to be taken seriously in the massage therapy field, the first inclination is to insist that massage isn't "Fluff and Buff." That term has been around for years, and it is meant to imply that if a massage is gentle and feels good, it isn't doing anything. Which is not at all what the research shows.
When a massage therapist like myself gets education in Neuromuscular Therapy, Trigger Point Therapy, Myoskeletal Alignment, etc. We use all these impressive sounding names to describe our work and distance ourselves from what we are actually doing. When it comes to relaxation, it's just massage, no matter how much time you spend with your nose in a book (trust me, that is my hobby) it doesn't transform your work into something entirely different from a baseline massage. You add tools, knowledge, experience, and confidence to your work, and all those are good things... your clients do care how much you know as long as they like you and you have a good reputation. Oddly, they don't seem to care if you have good listening skills.