Massage Therapy and Trauma Healing: Exploring the Connection

A client dealing with pain from a traumatic experience

People who have survived traumatic experiences may face long-lasting difficulties regulating their internal and external experiences. As a result, they may withdraw from social situations and feel lonely and afraid. However, research suggests that connection, compassion, and care can facilitate recovery for those who have experienced trauma. Massage therapy is a great way to foster a connection and encourage healing.

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Survivors of traumatic events, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), assault, vehicle accidents, developmental trauma, sexual violence, domestic abuse, and critical surgeries, often experience physical and emotional stress, sadness, anxiety, and emotional instability. When delivered by a trained professional, massage therapy can help reduce some of the distress associated with traumatic experiences. 

If you’re looking for a massage therapist, make sure they have the training to help you feel comfortable, help you heal, and get your consent before giving you a massage. These therapists should be well-versed in building trust and making the client feel safe before, during, and after the session.

Massage therapy can be quite beneficial for people who have experienced trauma. Comfort, improved mood, better circulation, less discomfort, and the release of tight muscles are just some of the benefits of a massage. Individuals who have experienced trauma can benefit from massage therapy since it allows them to regulate their feelings, experience human connection, and recover a sense of security and value.

Let’s dive deeper into the benefits of massage therapy for trauma healing and the special considerations that massage therapists should make while treating trauma survivors

A person holding a flower behind their back

The body is a depository for trauma

Older generations have a tendency to tell the younger ones to simply “get over” a traumatic event. Many families and societies still view crying and other displays of emotion as indicators of weakness. Even today, children and young adults are told to be brave when they go through an emotionally or physically traumatizing event. The unfortunate truth, though, is that it is not so simple for the brain and body to recover on their own. 

Both physical and psychological trauma create physiological repercussions that can manifest as a diverse range of health problems. Some physical manifestations of unresolved trauma include gastrointestinal problems, chronic discomfort, insomnia, and migraines.

People who are exposed to trauma for an extended period of time or repeatedly are likely to develop a heightened sense of awareness. As a result of being in a constant state of “fight or flight,” their muscles and fascia become excessively contracted and tense, which can be very painful.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person. Therefore, no two people will have the same symptoms or have the same experience with the disorder. But knowing the most common signs will help you evaluate whether massage treatment is worth a try. The following are some of the most common symptoms:


Hyperarousal is a state of heightened emotional and physical arousal. The person may, for instance, feel nervous, exhausted, or sleepless. Furthermore, they may get startled more easily and have an increased sensitivity to pain. 


Hypervigilance manifests as an unusual sensitivity to environmental cues or a heightened vigilance in the face of potential danger. Clients may exhibit other signs of tension, such as clenching their fists or holding their breath.

Remorse and guilt

Clients with PTSD may also experience emotions of shame or embarrassment, blaming themselves for the traumatic event or feeling worthless.

 A person with their head lowered in shame and guilt


The term “dissociation” is used to describe how a person can emotionally remove themselves from a terrible experience. Some people may show signs of emotional distancing, or they may appear to be absent or even asleep. Others with PTSD, for instance, struggle with perceiving time and forget key details of the event that triggered their symptoms. Other symptoms of dissociation include panic, fear, and nausea.

Invasive thoughts

Trauma survivors will also experience flashbacks or nightmares and unwelcome and uncomfortable memories of the devastating incident. The Mayo Clinic reports that the onset of PTSD symptoms usually occurs within three months after the traumatic event, while it is possible for symptoms to appear years later.

Regardless of how or when PTSD symptoms first arise, many people living with the disorder nevertheless find that they have a substantial impact on their everyday life, making it challenging to do things like go to work and build and maintain connections with others.

The importance of trauma-informed massage therapy

Since traumatic experiences are starting to be taken more seriously in the modern era, a massage therapist can help a wider range of clients by adopting a trauma-informed perspective. This involves learning about the various traumas and their effects on those who have survived them.

Being trauma-informed implies knowing how to spot the warning signals of a traumatic event and react appropriately. It also involves fighting against the further traumatization of those who have already experienced it. Moreover, while a trauma-informed strategy is necessary for assisting those who have experienced trauma, the skills needed for a holistic treatment approach can be applied to a wide variety of clientele.

A masseuse rubbing a client's back

Is massage therapy a viable trauma treatment?

Trauma therapy involves a wide range of treatment approaches. Massage of physical therapy is only one aspect of the greater treatment process. Memory reconsolidation, a neurobiological procedure essential to post-traumatic growth, must be undertaken exhaustively by trauma survivors. Methods like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and progressive counting (PC) are used to heal trauma by triggering memories and then delivering corrective information continuously. However, there is some evidence that massage therapy helps with trauma recovery.

Here are some ways in which massage therapy can help trauma survivors:

Alleviating stress

Massage therapy, the deliberate stimulation of soft body tissues for therapeutic purposes, has been shown to reduce physiological, psychological, and behavioral responses to stress. It can also alleviate post-traumatic stress symptoms like depression, stress, and restlessness.

Improving self-awareness

Research has also shown that massage treatment can benefit people who have experienced dissociation as a result of PTSD. A trauma-informed massage helps these clients feel more at ease and secure in their bodies by increasing their awareness of how different emotions present physically as sensations.

Release muscle tension

Hyper-arousal and heightened vigilance are common symptoms of trauma, making massage an especially useful therapeutic technique. The constant state of worry and anxiety can cause muscle tension and the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can have negative health effects over time. Massage therapy reduces the stress hormone cortisol and raises the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

Enhance relaxation

Massage therapy has several other benefits, including improved circulation, less muscle tension, and decreased discomfort. Practicing relaxation techniques like these can assist people who have experienced trauma overcome their “fight or flight” instinct. Trauma survivors can achieve a more peaceful frame of mind that helps them with their overall treatment and in dealing with the stresses of daily life.

A masseuse massaging a client's arm

How deep tissue massage helps trauma survivors deal with pain

People who have survived traumatic experiences report that they experience pain more frequently and more intensely than the average person. This is because the nervous system’s process of producing pain is very intricate and it’s extra sensitive for trauma survivors. Their nervous system detects danger from a stimulus well in advance, sometimes when there’s no real danger present. Surviving trauma causes a person’s nervous system to become hyperaware, or sensitized, due to the natural fear of their surroundings.

Quite often, the emotional anguish is too much to bear, and the neural system responds by dissociating or suppressing it, and this happens when the person has experienced shock and in cases of developmental trauma. Sadly, the neurological system can’t be selective about the feelings it suppresses, hence suppressing this emotional anguish also numbs all other feelings. Trauma-afflicted clients, like everyone else, have a deep yearning for emotion. This is why they seek out extreme experiences that are intense enough to drown out the numbing effects of their normal daily lives.

Such clients often request a “deep pressure” tissue massage because, hey, at least it hurts! A massage therapist who is aware of the effects of trauma will adjust their approach to clients who ask for extra deep pressure. Once we understand that the problem isn’t about depth or tissue, we can provide alternative treatments that help the client achieve the feeling they’re yearning for.

However, we acknowledge that this sense of vitality might be troublesome for some clients. Clients going through early developmental trauma may experience recoiling the following day. This will involve pain, melancholy, or anxiety. To prevent our clients from feeling hopeless in such situations, we can let them know the effects of trauma and perhaps even work with their psychotherapist.

 A masseuse massaging a client's shoulder

Protocol for massage therapists serving clients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When a massage therapist is working with a client with PTSD, two things will guide their work: confidence and care. A person needs to trust their therapist before they let them touch their body. When working with a client who has PTSD, a therapist’s priority should be to earn their confidence and ensure the patient is aware of their right to decline treatment. 

Build confidence with clients

Working with clients who deal with PTSD requires more than just outlining the therapeutic value of a massage. This clientele will require assurances that they can rely on their therapist. To accomplish this, the masseuse may need to spend more time talking to the client before starting a massage therapy session or even before they set foot in the massage space.

Individuals who have survived trauma will often be very inquisitive about their masseuse. In order to feel safe enough to open up to the therapist, they prepare a list of questions, arrive early, and sometimes even interview the professional. Massage therapists should be patient, welcoming, and respond to all questions calmly and compassionately.

Communication and constant feedback are key

Clients with PTSD must feel comfortable opening up at all points in the massage therapy session, from the first intake to the final wrap-up. When a massage therapist is working with such a client, they will pay special attention to one aspect during the intake: the client’s history of touch.

It is the responsibility of the massage therapist to make sure that the client feels at ease providing feedback during the treatment. This is because it is crucial to understand if and when a PTSD client is experiencing feelings of discomfort or unsafety. Furthermore, if the masseuse realizes that the massage therapy would aggravate the client’s condition, they won’t move forward with the session.

A massage therapist’s awareness of client sensitivities is crucial. They must be aware of what sights, sounds, scents, and even touches can bring on a recollection or reaction.

Keep adjusting the pace

During both the intake process and the massage therapy session, the therapist’s pace should mirror that of the client in order to minimize stress and maximize relaxation. Asian Massage 2 Hotels’ massage therapists know that the key to success is to take things gently, and to be careful and patient. We do this, so our clients feel secure and in control throughout the session.

Our massage therapists are also careful about their practice space when working with PTSD patients. Trauma survivors often experience increased anxiety in close quarters. They are mindful that certain clients with PTSD may feel a loss of control when lying face down and adjust their massage techniques accordingly. They also have the client undress to the extent to which they’re comfortable.

This is one reason why Asian Massage 2 Hotels is an ideal service for clients who have experienced a traumatic life event or deal with PTSD. We bring our services to the client’s hotel or wherever they feel comfortable. Our clients don’t need to worry about being in a strange, suffocating environment like other massage parlors. From the location of the massage to the client’s input on the massage’s flow, the client has full creative control over the experience.

Ready to book a therapeuticfull-body, outcall, or traditional Asian massage with our talented team in Las Vegas? Get in touch with us today!


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