Therapeutic massage during pregnancy


eMediNexus    18 May 2018

Complementary and alternative therapy interventions are gaining significance for pregnant women and women in labor.1 A study conducted among 84 depressed pregnant women revealed that massage therapy led to lower levels of anxiety and depressed mood and less leg and back pain. Women receiving therapeutic massage had higher dopamine and serotonin levels and lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine by the end of the study. These women also had better neonatal outcomes.2 In another study with 26 pregnant women, massage therapy reduced anxiety, improved mood, improved sleep and reduced back pain. Additionally, urinary stress hormone levels (norepinephrine) were also decreased among these women and they also had fewer complications during labor and their infants had fewer postnatal complications.3 Yet another study subjected pregnant women with major depression to 12 weeks of twice weekly massage therapy. The women showed reduced depression by the end of the therapy period, and reduced depression and cortisol levels during the postpartum period in comparison with control group. Their newborns were less likely to be born prematurely and with low birthweight.4

Massage oils with herbs known for their soothing effects can be used in massage therapy during pregnancy. Ashwagandha or Indian Ginseng is an effective adaptogen. This herb acts on various systems of the human body including the neurological system, the immune system, the energy-production system, the endocrinal system and the reproductive system. It improves an individuals resistance towards stress and improves self-assessed quality of life.5 Sesame oil has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and can relieve the inflammatory pain of joints and wounds.6 Topical application of sesame oil can reduce pain severity and is thus recommended as a complementary medicine for pain relief.7

These are potential herbs that can be used in massage oils during pregnancy to relieve stress and anxiety, as well as joint pains.


  1. Field T. Pregnancy and labor massage. Expert Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Mar; 5(2): 177–181.
  2. Field T, Diego MA, Hernandez-Reif M, et al. Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2004 Jun;25(2):115-22.
  3. Field T, Hemandez-Reif M, Hart S, et al. Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 1999;20(1).
  4. Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M, et al. Pregnancy massage reduces prematurity, low birthweight and postpartum depression. Infant Behav Dev. 2009 Dec;32(4):454-60.
  5. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.
  6. Lin T-K, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19:70.
  7. Shamloo MBB, Nasiri M, Dabirian A, et al. The Effects of Topical Sesame (Sesamum indicum) Oil on Pain Severity and Amount of Received Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs in Patients With Upper or Lower Extremities Trauma. Anesth Pain Med. 2015 Jun; 5(3): e25085.

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