Long Covid – can Massage Therapy help?

Danila Ciencia, Advanced Clinical Massage Practitioner, discusses how Massage for Long Covid has helped her clients at Shine, North London.

Millions of people worldwide have been experiencing the debilitating effects of Long Covid, finding their lives considerably limited by illness, financial consequences, an impact on their mental health and a general decline in quality of life.

More than 200 symptoms have been associated with Long Covid, the most common being fatigue, headache, attention disorders/brain fog, hair loss and breathlessness/dyspnoea.

For the 3rd and final year of my BTEC Level 6 Professional Diploma in Advanced Clinical and Sports Massage, I was asked to design and carry out a research project on the benefits of Massage Therapy.

With hardly any reported studies on the effectiveness of massage in treating Long Covid, I decided this would be a great subject for my final work. After all, I have experience in helping people manage symptoms of conditions such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Asthma, which present striking similarities. I also had a couple of success stories with Long Covid.

SH Health FatigueThe research project aimed to assess whether Massage Therapy (MT) combined with self-care can help alleviate all or some of the symptoms, specifically focusing on the most debilitating ones: fatigue, brain fog and breathlessness.

By using a multi-modal approach and evidence-based methods such as application of heat, myofascial release, Trigger Point work, acupressure, stretching and breathwork, each component in the treatment can produce its therapeutic effect.

Research has shown Acupressure helps with cognitive function amongst many other benefits, breathing exercises are extremely helpful with breathlessness; fascial work appears to promote ease of breathing and decrease dyspnoea, whilst skillfully applied Massage Therapy has been shown to help with asthma, fatigue, pain, anxiety, depression as well as improve patient’s clinical outcomes. 

SH Health Massage HandsWe have all heard of the many mind and body benefits of a regular Yoga practice and the importance of stretching. A regular self-care practice has been shown to improve the outcome of treatment in many studies.

And then there is the power of therapeutic touch alone, a skilled listening hand which creates a physiological connection between the skin and the nervous system, without doing much at all.

My participants were asked to fill in a validated questionnaire on a weekly basis, which recorded symptoms, functioning and disability from a biopsychosocial perspective (considering the connection between biological, psychological and social factors), to provide suitable multidisciplinary rehabilitation care, recommended and used by NHS England.

Over an initial 6-week control period the responses established a baseline. The following 6 weeks, participants received hands-on work as well as continuing to complete the questionnaire, allowing me to track all the 15 main symptoms and subscales, as well as their perception of general health 

When analysing the average data, we can see positive results with most symptoms: the most notable reductions were recorded on cognitive function (85%), anxiety (72%), depression (76%) and breathlessness (63%) as well as an improvement in the overall state of health (52%). Fatigue is more complex and affected by multiple triggers and stressors, therefore the improvement appears to have a slower trend and not a linear one, nevertheless showing a 17% improvement.

SH Danila tests

Further research is needed, and using larger groups of participants over a longer period would provide a broader statistical picture, but the results of this study should encourage both manual therapists and primary care providers to consider the inclusion of Clinical Massage Therapy in a multi-disciplinary care intervention for the management of Long Covid.

‘I had been suffering with persistent distressing symptoms of long Covid for over a year when I was first referred to Danila for therapeutic massage. I was sceptical at first but I can honestly say her specialist skill has helped me enormously with my breathlessness, anxiety and exhaustion. I now feel I have more control of my symptoms and always come away from sessions feeling calmer and with more energy for my life.’ CB

Danila Ciencia


Further Reading:

Daugherty, S.E. et al. (2021) ‘Risk of clinical sequelae after the acute phase of SARS-CoV-2 infection: Retrospective cohort study’, The BMJ, 373. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n1098.

Fairweather, R. and Mari, M.S. (2015). Massage fusion : the Jing method for the treatment of chronic pain. Edinburgh: Handspring Publishing.

Field, T. (2016) ‘Massage therapy research review’, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2016.04.005. 

Moyer, C.A., Rounds, J. and Hannum, J.W. (2004) ‘A Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy Research’, Psychological Bulletin, 130(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.130.1.3.

Sharkey, J. (2021) ‘Fascia Focused Manual Therapy Interventions-proposed treatment for PostCOVID Syndrome’, Integrative Journal of Medical Sciences, 8. Available at: https://doi.org/10.15342/ijms.2021.339.