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Massage Benefits for PTSD & Veterans

Veterans Can Benefit Even More From Regular Massage

Veterans are some of the hardest working Americans and have often been through more than most people can imagine. As a result, they often suffer from a variety of health issues. The good news is that a number of the most common health issues veterans face can be aided by massage therapy.

If you’re considering a massage chair as a veteran or you want to give a massage chair as a gift to one, the following information can help you to understand how massage can help and what to expect.

Common Health Conditions for Veterans & How Massage Can Help

The health benefits of massage are well known, so it comes as no surprise that veterans also want to capitalize on these benefits. Several studies quantify the concrete effects of massage on veterans. One study published in Military Medicine Magazine highlights the following positive results:

  • Reduced physical pain- Subjects in the study had lower ratings of pain and physical tension over the eight-week period.
  • Improved anxiety and irritability- Veterans reported lower overall anxiety, irritability, stress, and worry following massage therapy treatments.
  • Depression & PTSD improvement- Veterans suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder stated they felt “significant improvements” during the study.
  • Partner benefits- Veterans with partners who participated in the study also said there were improvements in self-compassion, depression, and worry.

Not only were the benefits of massage felt right away, but the study also pointed to lower baseline levels for tension and irritability for the long-term, and the baseline stress levels appeared to go down over the course of the eight-week study.

Let’s dive into how these conditions can be benefitted by massage.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is another major issue for veterans. According to Niki Munk, Ph.D., a researcher and massage therapist in Indiana, musculoskeletal pain is common and is the leading cause of disability among veterans. In fact, as much as 70% of the veteran population is affected. Research published in 2016 suggested vets are more likely to develop musculoskeletal disorders, including arthritis, lower back pain, and hip pain.

Matthew Bair, M.D., MS, a health services researcher with a special interest in pain management said, “[...M]assage is [...] uniquely situated to help chronic pain conditions, especially musculoskeletal conditions such as low back pain, osteoarthritis-related pain, neck pain, and fibromyalgia.”

Studies back up the benefits massage offers those struggling with chronic pain, such as back, neck, and shoulder pain as well as osteoarthritis. For instance, a study comparing two different types of massage on 401 participants with lower back pain indicated that massage is an effective treatment, with benefits lasting at least six months.


For veterans, in particular, anxiety can present as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The condition is often described as persistent, uncontrollable anxiety and worry. A 2013 study that looked into the prevalence of GAD in the Department of Veterans Affairs primary care, found that 12% of the 884 participants showed signs of GAD. Additionally, GAD was seen in 40% of participants who had been diagnosed with PTSD.

Additionally, a 2016 study looked at Swedish massage for symptoms of GAD and indicated that participants’ anxiety was significantly improved at the start of week three, which suggested that massage could be an effective treatment for GAD.


Both the above-mentioned doctors, Bair and Munk, agree that depression is especially troublesome within the veteran population, and research supports this concern. A 2016 study on PTSD and depression symptoms in American veterans found that those with PTSD and depression who also had limited social support were at a much greater risk for suicide.

And though the comorbidity rate between PTSD and depression is reasonably high, a 2017 study found that approximately 40% of veterans who were not diagnosed with PTSD did have other mental health conditions, the most often found being depression.

With depression, massage therapy also shows promise as a treatment aid. A 2010 meta-analysis that studied the treatment effects of massage therapy for depression found a firm link between massage and reduced symptoms of depression. Also, a 2013 study indicated that massage significantly lowered depression in HIV patients when compared to receiving no interventions and light touching. With this being the case, it is likely that massage could help those dealing with depression no matter the cause, including past service.


While insomnia is a frequent issue among the general American population, it is an even greater issue for veterans. A study in 2017 that looked at the perspectives of primary care providers on veterans showed that over half of the veterans already enrolled in VA health care centers in the Midwest showed signs of higher levels of insomnia.

As with so many other conditions, sleep disturbances can cause other problems. For instance, a 2017 study found that sleep disorders and nightmares could be linked to a greater risk of suicide.

A soldier’s sleep is frequently restless and shallow, even non-existent at times. Massage helps to restore healthy sleep. It's beneficial in reducing insomnia and increasing the deep sleep necessary for a healthy mind and body. Those suffering from PTSD can find relief by employing the simplest techniques and relaxation. These complementary approaches can be better for some people than using medication or it can accompany medication for a more effective approach overall.

Unique Benefits of Massage for PTSD

One of the most common mental health concerns within the veteran population is PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. This feeling of fear and a host of other negative emotions either during or after a traumatic event often don’t completely go away and many continue to feel stressed or frightened even as the danger has passed. Research estimates that between five and 20% of veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan now have PTSD.

Both physical and psychological symptoms accompany the condition and can include increased risk for musculoskeletal or cardiovascular issues, flashbacks and nightmares, heightened feelings of detachment and isolation, irritability, and sleep disorders.

Because these symptoms are so wide-ranging and often contradictory, PTSD treatment can be challenging to pin down. Frank Ochberg, M.D. and founder of Gift from Within- a nonprofit organization providing educational resources to people suffering from PTSD- said, “[F]or example, not only can you have a flashback or memory you don’t want to have, but you also feel separate and alienated from others. That makes it difficult to be trusting, to want to be with the very people you need to be with.”

And as you’ve read, a great deal of research shows that massage therapy can assist veterans with PTSD. With that previous research, there was also a pilot study indicated that massage significantly lessened headaches, anxiety, and pain interference. And a June 2017 study also showed that massage was also found to be a positive addition to veteran health care.

The benefits of massage on PTSD are not limited to the military either. The positive results from massage can be profound for those suffering from PTSD no matter the cause of the condition.  Living through or witnessing anything extremely upsetting or dangerous can cause PTSD, especially if the event was ongoing and unavoidable.

Due to heightened emotional response that is part of PTSD, sufferers often experience increased body tension and cannot relax during a one-on-one massage session. The hyper-vigilant state they experience together with traumatic somatic memories can make it very challenging for them to get the deep tissue work that can feel so good.

This is where a massage chair can be of particular benefit. When using a chair, the person can remain fully clothed, choose their own settings, and decide when, where, and how the massage will take place. Ideally, the person with PTSD will become more comfortable and able to relax in the chair with each session. As they’re able to relax and begin to feel safe, the benefits of the massage will increase.

Massage can’t cure PTSD, but it is effective at reducing some of the worst symptoms of the illness. Massage can improve symptoms such as chronic pain, immune system disorders, and stress. PTSD sufferers also typically have elevated cortisol levels, which lead to cognitive issues, poor glucose management, and reduced immune response. Studies from the Touch Research Institute show that massage assists to lower blood cortisol levels and can thereby lessen those damaging effects.

At Fort Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center, the Holistic Healing approach to PTSD crafted by clinical psychologist John Fortunato has shown to be particularly effective. The therapies include reiki, massage, meditation, yoga, and hot stone massage. If you could add even one of these modalities to your routine by incorporating a massage chair, it could be very beneficial.

The stress of war and transitioning back to civilian life frequently causes a chronic release of cortisol, which when persistent over a long period of time can cause serious problems. Massage has been shown to lower those cortisol levels but even better it has been shown to increase serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. This hormonal balancing can help us to relax and reduces stress-related issues.

Veterans Prefer Massage for Complementary Medicine

Another survey of over 400 veterans focused on using complementary medicine to alleviate chronic pain. Complementary medicine includes massage therapy, chiropractic care, and various other alternatives.

The subjects received treatment for chronic pain through the VA’s clinics, with some employing complementary medicine and some going without. Ninety-nine percent of people agreed that they would try complementary medicine like massage therapy for pain management. Additionally, of all the types of complementary medicine available, massage therapy was chosen by 92% of the subjects.

It is clear that the recent studies point to what those in the massage industry, as well as those receiving massage, already know, that it has real and significant benefits for many people- particularly veterans.

Getting Started with Massage Chairs

Massage therapy is frequently administered at many spas, salons, and wellness centers, and it remains a more mainstream treatment option given at some hospitals and clinics. But not all of us have the opportunity or ability to get to the doctor’s office or spa to get a massage. Additionally, with the pandemic going on, leaving the house can just cause more stress and impact our health. So, that’s where a massage chair is your secret weapon.

Studies have shown evidence of the safety and effectiveness of massage for stress, anxiety, PTSD, and depression, and when you bring a chair into your home you can make it that much more accessible for you to take advantage of each day. It’s important to note though that if you’re experiencing panic attacks and symptoms of panic disorders or if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, talking to your doctor always has to be a part of your treatment plan.

A doctor will be able to help you with traditional treatment options, including medication and therapy. Massage is beneficial in assisting you to manage PTSD and chronic pain on a daily basis but is not a replacement for medical care. Massage is something to incorporate into a new or existing treatment program.

Getting daily massages increases relaxation, lowers cortisol, and boosts circulation, contributing to your overall happiness and well-being. Purchasing a massage chair for your home will allow you the opportunity to get a massage whenever you want, enabling you to enjoy all of these benefits at the push of a couple of buttons, and at a moment’s notice.

While massage aids people in all professions, military service people can particularly benefit from the calming effects of massage. After working hard to serve our country, veterans deserve to find well-rounded health both physically and mentally. As you can see massage therapy is not only one of the preferred methods of complementary medicine for vets, but it is also one of the most effective.

And when a massage chair can aid in treatment on demand and without any emotional stress associated with interacting with a stranger, it can be an even better way to capitalize on the benefits of massage.

Finished With Your Research?

You can look into the chairs, techniques, and other benefits of massage in the Learning Center on our website, and you’ll be able to see the number of other physical benefits that these chairs can provide. Additionally, in the Massage Chair Buying Guide, we talk about which chairs are good for certain desires and needs, and it can help you with your search for a massage chair when you want to incorporate one into your relaxation routine and mental health resources.

Your physical and mental health is important. You deserve to feel your best and be able to take advantage of any tool out there that can help you with it. With that in mind, don’t forget about our financing options. We understand that investing in a massage chair is a big decision, and we want to help make that process as simple and stress-free as possible.

If you have any questions about massage chairs and how they might provide a relaxing, serotonin-boosting experience, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re available over the phone or through email at


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