Positive Massage & Touch Deprivation

26 July 2022


Life has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have we seen a major health crisis that has changed the lives of millions but we have also seen a rise in fear and anxiety, a loss of effective communication, and touch-deprivation (Al Dhaheri et al., 2021; Naruse & Moss, 2021).

Recent studies have shown that positive massage between couples and family members is an effective support skill to relax, reduce soreness, and destress. Massage not only promotes self-care but creates wellbeing in a touch-deprived era.

Unfortunately, touch-deprivation is a critical health issue. Linked with aggression, depression, self-harm, and developmental delays, touch-deprivation has been largely understudied and overlooked. Due to the growth of virtual communications, social taboos against touch, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, we live in fear of touch through isolation, ongoing restrictions, and social distancing (Naruse & Moss, 2021; Tauge et al., 2021).

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Benefits of Massage

Massage encourages communication, closeness, pain relief, and harmony. The physical benefits of massage are endless; it is able to decrease pain in cancer sufferers, relieve leg and back pain during pregnancy, and provide relief during delivery and post labour. The psychological benefits include a reduction of depression, anxiety, stress, and fatigue. Massage can also improve family stress and relationships and elevate mood, especially during the social restrictions of the pandemic era. As feelings of isolation increase, touch therapies offer increased support for clients facing uncertainty and challenges (Tauge et al., 2021). 

Massage is, therefore, beneficial during times of stress over the COVID-19 pandemic period and beyond. Stressed couples can experience massage with limited equipment. It can be short, simple, user-friendly and accessible, requiring no oil, removal of clothing or the use of a massage table (Naruse & Moss, 2021).

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Why do we need touch?

Massage improves relaxation, and relaxation boosts mental and physical capability. Known to lower systolic blood pressure, alpha-amylase, cortisol, and stress while increasing oxytocin, physical touch is one of the most instinctive, effective, and natural yet powerful ways to connect and communicate. In fact, researchers have observed higher levels of psychological and physiological relaxation in people after only ten minutes of receiving a massage.

A lack of touch during the COVID-19 pandemic may harm relationships, and when combined with the stress of isolation, confinement, and lockdowns, the inability to support others may result in negative consequences, including partner violence, separation, and the breakdown of the family unit (Naruse & Moss, 2021).


Unfortunately, too much stress can negatively affect health and disease. The PNS (Peripheral Nervous System), however, can ward off stress during times of threat. For this reason, a relaxation response is key to restoring balance. Recent studies have indicated that massage is an easy-to-apply intervention that can boost the PNS and lead to a reduction in perceived mental stress; however, there is no systematic approach that exists to confirm its effect on the PNS.

It is noted, however, that ten minutes of resting or receiving massage in recent studies can result in both a psychological and physiological reduction in stress. The physiological effect is more noticeable when participants have received a massage; however, what is interesting, is that “it is not important whether the massage was soft or moderate, only that tactile contact in general seemed to improve the relaxation of the body” (University of Konstanz, 2020). This means you don’t need a professional treatment to relax.

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Massage Technique

Studies have shown that having someone gently stroke your shoulders, or even just resting your head on the table for ten minutes, is an effective way to boost your body's relaxation (University of Konstanz, 2020). Therefore, a lay massage (a massage delivered by a partner or caregiver who is not professionally trained) can still deliver positive effects on health and wellbeing. 

Participants can be given a 15 min massage sequence covering massage on the back, arms, shoulders, and head. The guided pressure should range from gentle to moderate and instructions should be communicated between the couple to assure the partner’s preference.

An example of a Mini Chair Massage

Ask the participants to sit in the chair, lean into a pillow and cross their arms over the back of the chair. The style of massage can be a variety of techniques, such as stroking, kneading, pressing, squeezing, and tapping (Naruse & Moss, 2021).

The participant is fully clothed in a light fitted t-shirt. Start by gently kneading the shoulders for five mins before proceeding down to the participant’s back and using open palm pressing and stroking (effleurage) on the lower and upper back. If the participant is happy and has no contraindications, a light massage on the head with fingertips creating small circles on the scalp can be very relaxing and is a nice way to finish off. 



Positive massage promotes health and relational wellbeing and, when based in a home setting, can alleviate mild discomfort or pain when present. 

Therefore, as personal trainers, it is essential that we care for our clients and encourage them to seek the delivery of manual therapies. Encouraging massage between couples and families can help our clients meet the most basic human need for touch and connection, particularly at times when individuals are at risk of extensive touch deprivation. Positive Massage is a selves-care skill that benefits couples, children, and larger families, and can create a willingness to support, provide comfort, reduce stress, and demonstrate affection and care towards others (Tauge et al., 2021; Naruse & Moss, 2021).

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