Shiatsu Massage’s Benefits on Health and Well-Being

A recent multi-center UK study shows the potential of shiatsu for promoting well-being and critical health literacy (patient empowerment).

With interest in alternative and complementary medicine steadily increasing, researchers are beginning to investigate how spa therapies such as massage benefit health. This is the first study to evaluate how complementary medicine improves health literacy. In addition, the effects of medical advice given during complementary therapies, and the relationship between the practitioner and the client working together is explored.

The Study’s Aim

Researchers from the School of Healthcare at the University of Leeds in the UK have studied the effects and experience of shiatsu massage at spas in Austria, Spain, and the UK. In particular they wanted to see if complementary medicine could improve health literacy, that is, the resulting changes that contribute to improved health. The specific parameters they focused on revolved around the massage therapist’s advise on diet, posture, points to work on at home and other ways of self-care.

Health literacy is considered a key component of health promotion or empowerment. It involves the ways in which health consumers find and interpret health information as well as the ways individuals incorporate this information into their daily living habits. Health literacy is considered a valuable asset when it enhances the control an individual has over his or her own health. Prior to the UK study, the effects of complementary medicine on health literacy hadn’t been studied.

Guidance Through Shiatsu

The researchers found that people seek out shiatsu massage and other forms of complementary medicine primarily as a pro-active measure that increases well-being. Improvements to health are an added benefit. When the massage therapist offers health improvement suggestions based on the diagnostic findings provided by shiatsu, this information is considered important. For instance, hunching over a computer can cause postural changes that contribute to energy blockages. Suggestions for relaxation and improving posture can prevent tense muscles and inflammation.

Shiatsu practitioners have a highly developed sense of touch that enables them to interpret both the quality and flow of chi energy, the body’s life force. Treatment involves gentle pressure to the energy channels as well as advice intended to help clients become aware of circumstances that block energy flow.

Study Findings

In the study the researchers evaluated clients for 6 months after they received a pre-designed protocol of shiatsu with health advice. All practitioners were registered with one of three shiatsu national societies and saw at least 20 clients each month. All of the test subjects were at least 18 years old and continued to have shiatsu massages on an average of 2-3 times every 3 months. Test subjects were evaluated with questionnaires, and practitioners were evaluated to determine the kind of advice they commonly gave.

At baseline, the main reason for having shiatsu was described as a desire to maintain or improve health. The second most common reason was to enhance health, quality of life or personal growth. Also, at baseline 80 percent of practitioners said they commonly made recommendations for improving health. Nearly all test subjects considered such information as being relevant.

By the 6-month follow-up session, about 80 percent of test subjects reported that they had made changes to their lifestyle based on the advice given during their shiatsu treatment. Advise included increasing rest and relaxation; listening to their body, improving their diets, increasing exercise, and watching for the first signs of back pain or muscle tension; using meditation; and emphasizing their personal strengths and abilities. Test subjects noted changes in mind-body awareness, increased confidence and better coping abilities. Subjects were positive about their relationships with their practitioners and perceived their shiatsu treatments as joint efforts.


Discussions centered on the fact that clients who invested in their health and self-paid for shiatsu were more likely to take an interest in improving their health. However, the fact that clients continued to use shiatsu even when they encountered adverse circumstances in their life, suggested that the ongoing relationship with their shiatsu practitioner had a greater than expected beneficial effect. In addition, the ambience and atmosphere of shiatsu, were appreciated by the test subjects and this contributed to ongoing self-care as well as greater health and wellbeing. More studies are needed to compare shiatsu with other forms of complementary medicine that involve opportunities for offering health advice.