What Is Shiatsu Massage and What Are the Benefits?

What is Shiatsu Massage?

Whether you’re living with chronic pain or just want to feel energized and rejuvenated, you need to learn more about shiatsu massage.

This form of massage therapy does absolute wonders for your physical health and mental wellbeing.

Read on to find out all about the scientifically proven benefits. Spoiler alert — there are many!

We’ve also explored a few different ways you can enjoy a shiatsu massage at home, as well as answering some frequently asked questions.

What is Shiatsu Massage?

Shiatsu massage dates all the way back to ancient Japan but has become increasingly popular in the Western world more recently.

So what does the term ‘shiatsu’ actually mean?

  • The translation is ‘finger pressure’ but do not be fooled, it’s not just about applying finger pressure!
  • Your therapist may also introduce their knuckles, elbows, feet and knees as part of the treatment.

It’s the perfect remedy to loosen up your muscles, stimulate circulation of the blood and get your energy flowing.

In fact the idea of energy flow, also known as ‘Ki’ or ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’) is the main principle of shiatsu.

Practitioners believe any disruption to your energy flow causes illnesses and diseases.

Shiatsu is all about freeing any blockages or imbalances to the Ki flow and rejuvenating the body by restoring energy to where it’s most needed.

The practice involves applying pressure to or stretching any points that lie along the lines of energy, these are referred to as ‘meridian channels’.

Watch the short video below that explains a little more about shiatsu massage in less than two minutes:

YouTube video

How is Shiatsu Different to Other Massage Techniques?

There are five main differences to note compared to other techniques, such as percussion massage and hot stone massage:

  1. You’ll keep your clothes on unlike other massage styles where you may have to remove your clothes.
    Tip: Remember to attend a shiatsu massage therapy session in loose, comfortable clothes.
  2. The practitioner will ask you to lay on the floor on a mat as opposed to a table. This is to help them apply pressure and manipulate your body more easily.
  3. The focus will be on your joints and connective tissue rather than your muscles.
  4. No oils are used, unlike Swedish massage for example where you inhale the aromas and they are absorbed into your skin.
  5. You’ll come out feeling energized and rejuvenated, as opposed to relaxed and sleepy.

The closest form of treatment to shiatsu is acupuncture as it draws on traditional Chinese medicine theory and uses meridians and pressure points.

However, unlike acupuncture there are no needles used.

Benefits of Shiatsu Massage

There are so many ways that both your body and mind can benefit from shiatsu massage. Below we’ve summarised just a few of them!

Benefit 1: Improves Your Circulation and Reduces Constipation

1: Improves Your Circulation and Reduces Constipation

Research has shown that there’s nothing like a shiatsu massage to stimulate the whole body’s circulation, including the digestive system.

Laxatives are generally the most common strategy for dealing with constipation.

However they can sometimes have harmful side effects, like increased constipation and fecal impaction (basically a large mass of stool that gets stuck so badly in your colon or rectum that it’s impossible to push out).

Why not try something that research has been proven to have a positive effect on our bowel function?

Benefit 2: Reduces Stress and Tension

2: Reduces Stress and Tension

If you’re gifting a massage to someone feeling stressed and frazzled then shiatsu could work wonders.

The technique has been scientifically proven to promote emotional and physical calm and reduce any tension in the body.

Stress and anxiety go hand-in-hand, when stress is prolonged, anxiety results. Shiatsu can also help here too.

A systematic review looking at the effects of shiatsu and acupressure explained both can decrease anxiety.

Another small study involving 60 burns patients admitted to a hospital in Iran revealed that shiatsu may increase levels of serotonin (a hormone that helps you to feel calmer and more focused).

Not just that but it also increases dopamine (another hormone that makes feel more motivated, accomplished and productive), helping to reduce anxiety.

Benefit 3: Help with Insomnia

3: Help with Insomnia

Struggling to get a good night’s sleep?

You’re not alone as one in five Americans have some sort of sleep disorder.

If you’re one of them, we’ve got good news:

There is a stack of medical research that shows shiatsu massage can improve sleep quality.

One study explored the effects of hand self-shiatsu (HSS) for people with chronic pain that negatively impacts on their sleep.

Amazingly doing this type of massage can improve the time it takes for you to fall asleep, as well as sleep duration.

Another piece of research from the University of Alberta revealed young adult athletes recovering from concussion can gain better slumber from HSS.

Want to give it a go yourself?

Watch Leisa Bellmore, Shiatsu Therapist in the Artists’ Health Centre at Toronto Western Hospital demonstrate how to perform self-shiatsu on the hand to help with sleep:

YouTube video

Benefit 4: Decreases Depressive Symptoms

4: Decreases Depressive Symptoms

The emotional balance a massage provides might be more than you realize.

As the mental health epidemic continues to grow, massage has become an alternative treatment option as it reduces cortisol (the primary stress hormone) and adrenaline, while increasing serotonin and dopamine.

In a pilot study assessing therapies for depression in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, findings suggested that shiatsu massage may play a role in promoting psychological wellbeing.

Why isn’t it used as a way to treat more people suffering with mental health conditions?

Further investigations are recommended to provide stronger evidence before it’s used as a cost-effective way of helping to treat depression.

Benefit 5: Helps Bring Relief to Arthritis Sufferers

5: Helps Bring Relief to Arthritis Sufferers

The Arthritis Foundation recommends shiatsu as it restores the healthy flow of energy in the body.

The Touch Research Institute, part of the University of Miami School of Medicine, discovered that a combination of hand massage from a therapist and self-hand massage is effective when it comes to easing pain caused by arthritis.

The study focused on adults who received a massage by a therapist once a week, as well as daily self-hand massages.

Combining the techniques reduced hand pain up to a staggering 57%!

Side Effects of Shiatsu Massage

A systematic review of shiatsu massage explains that it’s an ‘inherently safe’ treatment.

It’s so safe that the world’s leading independent cancer charity, Cancer Research UK, advocates for it as a complementary alternative therapy.

So what can you expect to feel after a treatment?

The worst case scenario is a little muscle stiffness, headache or tiredness. These symptoms shouldn’t last longer than a few hours and even then, not everyone will experience them.

Enjoying Shiatsu Massage at Home

If you can’t visit a shiatsu massage therapist then there are a good range of at-home shiatsu massagers you can try.

Take a look at the list below that highlights the different ways you can enjoy shiatsu massage at home:

Massage Chair

The closest thing to a hands-on shiatsu massage is a massage chair. Nodes in the chair mimic the technique allowing you to just sit back and relax.

There are a range of chairs on the market to select from, each with their own unique mix of features and functions.

Massage Chair Pad

If you don’t have the space (or the budget!) for a massage chair, then a chair pad is the next best thing. It fixes to any chair within your home and contains nodes that move up and down your neck and back.

Handheld Massage Tool

Handheld massagers are typically wands, that can be electric or manual. You’re in control, positioning it to get to the source of your pain.

Belt Massager

A belt massager can be wrapped around your lower back or draped over your shoulders. Similarly to a massage chair, they include nodes that oscillate to work out knots and muscle tension.

Cushion / Pillow

A cushion or pillow massager can be useful if you’re suffering with neck pain or discomfort in your lower back. Mimicking shiatsu techniques, they’re an affordable way to enjoy the technique at home.

Foot Massager

There are a number of at-home foot massagers out there that imitate the shiatsu technique. They’re a real treat for the feet!

FAQs about Shiatsu Massage

What does shiatsu massage do?

What is shiatsu massage good for?

Does shiatsu massage hurt?

Does shiatsu massage work?

Is shiatsu massage safe during pregnancy?

Is a shiatsu massage chair good for you?

What do you wear for a shiatsu massage?

Now you know everything there is to know about shiatsu massage, you might want to start enjoying the technique at home.

Read our guide to the best massage chairs (with shiatsu options!).

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The Good Body Team

Health & Wellbeing Specialists

Articles regularly reviewed and updated over time by our team of wellness experts all committed to helping people live a happier and healthier life.