Massage for Smoking Cessation: Does It Work?

IraBy 2022, at least 83% of Americans believe that massage should be considered a form of healthcare. This is because massages aren’t just a means of relaxing sore muscles – they also come with a myriad of surprising benefits, such as managing sciatic nerve pain. As we’ve previously discussed in Massage Gun For Sciatica, massage therapies can lead to a significant reduction in lower back pain caused by piriformis syndrome.

Another surprising benefit of massages is their aid in smoking cessation. Research as early as 1999 has showed that smoking cravings can be reduced by self-massage. This preliminary evidence thus suggests massage therapy may be beneficial in decreasing tobacco use. Intrigued? Let’s take a closer look below.

Psychological and physical benefits

Massages are designed to target specific pressure points that can relieve the mind and body of stress. This can be the solar plexus point, which is associated with immediate stress control, or the adrenal gland point, which is associated with coping with long-term stress.

Targeting specific points is also the basis for foot reflexology, a type of massage and traditional Chinese medicine. Here, the reflex points on the feet are linked to every part of the body, and massage stimulation may thereby activate homeostasis and cause a therapeutic effect.

Researchers in Thailand measured a decrease in continuous abstinence rate (CAR) in 240 smokers after providing foot reflexology, especially for smokers with a lower nicotine dependence level. This result was replicated in Canada too, wherein reflexology was revealed to slow down the mind and promote relaxation in the body. Reflexology significantly reduces the feelings of irritability and anxiety associated with nicotine withdrawal.

The Chicago Chiropractic & Sports Injury Centers also finds that massages can improve blood circulation in the body. This boosts your immune system, helps rid your body of the chemicals from tobacco, and destimulates your brain’s nicotine receptors.

This is proof that across the world massages are a universal method of healing the mind and body, and can aid the process of cessation for smokers.

Are massages enough?

Massages are proven to reduce cravings for nicotine by minimizing stress in the mind and body. The effects aren’t direct, but when combined with evidence-based approaches to quitting smoking such as NRTs, it can be easier to avoid relying on cigarettes.

NRTs bank on moderating the smoker’s nicotine intake, but different forms can also pose varying benefits. A blog post by Prilla notes that nicotine pouches are as effective as other smokeless products when it comes to supplying the brain with nicotine to slowly ease cravings. However, unlike snus and snuff, nicotine pouches don’t contain tobacco nor harmful toxins like tar or acetone that accompany smoking.

Besides NRT, Springer lists other pharmacological strategies available for smoking cessation such as varenicline, cytisine, and bupropion. Each of these drugs also has peculiar characteristics. NRT works by stimulating nicotine receptors and thereby reducing cravings, whereas other medicines target these receptors to block the “buzz” without consuming any nicotine at all.

Bupropion is noted to have a success rate of smoking cessation of less than 50%. On the other hand, the successful smoking cessation rate of foot reflexology — a much less expensive treatment — is almost 50%. This means that multimodal approaches of massages, NRT or medication, and even counseling could be the best means to achieving absolute smoking cessation.

How to get started?

Although massage has a low risk of harm, Dr. Gregory Minnis advises that the risks that do exist need to be approached with caution. Hot stone massages may reopen wounds or cuts and people with bleeding disorders may wish to avoid massages altogether.

It's best to first check with your doctor before availing of any service. With the right preparation, massages can promote relaxation and become a key ingredient in your road to quitting cigarettes for good.