Massage Therapy for PTSD: What Massage Therapists Should Know

Massage Therapy for PTSD: What Massage Therapists Should Know

To effectively incorporate massage therapy into a treatment, therapists should be mindful of timing.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a health condition arising from exposure to traumatic events. This may lead to symptoms such as depression, intense anxiety, stress, uncontrollable thoughts, muscle tension and sensitivity to contact. Massage therapy for PTSD can offer relief from some of these symptoms when therapists understand the condition and the needs of the individuals.

What should massage therapists know about PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can present with various symptoms. These may include depression, fear of crowds, anxiety, pain, fatigue, muscle tension, sleep disruption, sensitivity to noise, touch or contact, irritability and an exaggerated, sudden response. The intensity of each symptom varies among individuals, highlighting the need for personalized treatment with the right approach of empathy, patience and understanding. Since massage involves close physical contact with clients, it’s vital for massage therapists to be aware of these symptoms.

To effectively incorporate massage therapy into a treatment, therapists should also be mindful of timing. If a client gets a massage before psychotherapy, there's a risk that their symptoms could worsen. This is because people with PTSD may have extreme sensitivity to physical contact that can evoke memories or feelings related to their trauma, especially if they haven't developed coping strategies yet.

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Once a client is ready for massage, focus on creating a safe environment. From the moment a client with PTSD enters the room, every action and interaction should reinforce their sense of safety and autonomy. This ensures that the massage experience becomes an empowering aspect of their healing journey.

Building trust prior to your session is also crucial. Your clients should feel in control during the massage, with the freedom to pause or end the session if they feel it's necessary.

Maintain open communication with your clients and ask for feedback throughout your session. This can help you adjust your massage techniques and the amount of pressure based on the feedback given. It may even encourage your clients to share their comfort levels or if any technique is triggering them, leading to an overall positive experience.

Benefits of massage therapy for PTSD

When included in a holistic treatment plan, massage therapy has several benefits for PTSD. Studies have shown that massage not only alleviates specific PTSD symptoms, but it can also improve overall well-being.

These benefits may include:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety. Massage therapy can lower cortisol levels, reducing the feelings of stress and anxiety experienced by individuals with PTSD.
  • Improved sleep quality. PTSD can result in insomnia or sleep disruptions. Massage therapy can improve sleep quality by promoting relaxation and lowering tension.
  • Ease of physical symptoms. Frequent massage sessions effectively relax muscles and reduce the occurrence of headaches.
  • Ease of emotional and psychological symptoms. Massage therapy can provide a sense of comfort and security that is often compromised for individuals with PTSD. Skilled and knowledgeable therapists can create an environment where clients feel calm and safe in good hands.
  • Enhanced body awareness. Massage can enhance body awareness for individuals with PTSD. People can reconnect with their bodies and become more attuned to their movements and sensations.
  • Reduced hypervigilance. Massage therapy can also reduce the feeling of constant danger and alertness commonly experienced by those with PTSD. Massage calms the autonomic nervous system, which helps regulate hormone imbalance (endorphin release) and reduce pain, stress and worry.

The best massage techniques for PTSD

Since PTSD often leads to high muscle tension caused by anxiety and stress, using the right massage techniques can be extremely beneficial. These techniques can help improve blood flow, remove waste, reduce tightness, and contribute to overall relaxation and comfort for your clients with PTSD.

For example, deep tissue massage is highly effective in relieving muscle tension and knots, providing relief from the chronic pain and stiffness frequently associated with PTSD. On the other hand, sports massage helps release tightness while also improving flexibility and range of motion. Don’t be fooled by the name! Sports massage is good for anyone, including people with PTSD. It awakens the tired body, reduces risks of injuries and pinpoints problematic areas or muscle groups on the body that need work.

Here are some additional tips to structure your massage therapy for PTSD clients.

Start with relaxation

Begin the session with relaxing techniques such as kneading and effleurage. This will not only warm the body up but also allow you to figure out the unique needs and sensitivities of the individual. The client will get accustomed to your touch and build trust, which will allow for a gradual progression into more intensive methods.

Progress to intensive techniques

As the client becomes more at ease, you can gradually introduce more intensive techniques such as petrissage. This involves using strokes with hands, palms or knuckles to further release muscle tension.

Incorporate Trigger Point Therapy

When appropriate, include trigger point therapy as part of the treatment plan. This can get rid of muscle knots and tension related to PTSD.

To strike a balance, it's beneficial to alternate between relaxing and more intense techniques. Also, seek feedback from your client and adjust the pressure as necessary. This keeps the client comfortable throughout the session.

Expert tips for massage therapists working with clients with PTSD

Prioritizing your own well-being is also important when working with clients with diverse conditions, such as PTSD. The emotional impact of this work underscores the need for consistent self-care, to maintain your mental health and overall well-being while supporting others.

It's important to seek supervision and support, especially when dealing with challenging cases. Don't hesitate to reach out for assistance, discuss cases with colleagues, and seek guidance from more experienced professionals or mentors. These practices not only contribute to your emotional resilience but also expand your knowledge.

Continuous education is beneficial for both your clients and your practice. Staying informed about new skills, studies, and research equips you to address the unique needs of clients with PTSD. The commitment and time you invest in yourself will not only keep you grounded but also give you confidence in your abilities.


As a massage therapist, the knowledge and skills to support your clients with PTSD is incredibly valuable. Your role in their healing journey becomes significant when approached with empathy and professionalism. By building trust, asking for consent and feedback, and delivering thoughtful care, you as a therapist have the power to positively impact the lives of individuals facing challenges related to PTSD.

This article was written by Mehreen Rizvi

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