Massage, chiropractic and other manipulation techniques

Massage therapy

Massage therapy is the movement and stimulation of body tissues by a therapist, such as the manipulation of muscle in Swedish massage or of joints, bones and tendons in chiropractic massage and osteopathy. Most healing traditions use massage. Most people with HIV who use massage find it relieves stress and decreases anxiety. Massage may also benefit the immune system.

Swedish massage is the form of massage most commonly available in Canada. It aims to stimulate blood circulation and loosen knotted muscles. The kneading, stroking, pressing and stretching can help joints move better and provide relief from pain, stress and fatigue. Swedish massage may also help the immune system work better through relaxation. Massage may also help with peripheral neuropathy.

Shiatsu is a form of Japanese massage that aims to balance the energies in the body. Some people with HIV use shiatsu to relieve stress and fatigue. At least two styles of shiatsu massage are available in Canada, and practitioners may offer one or both. Masunaga shiatsu (or zen shiatsu) is closely related to other east Asian medical practices. It focuses on creating balance and harmony in the body by stimulating the flow of Chi or life energy (see section on traditional Chinese medicine) and is closely related to acupressure. The second style of shiatsu is Namikoshi shiatsu, also called original shiatsu. This style combines the Western medical sciences of anatomy and physiology with the Eastern traditions of Masunaga shiatsu. Namikoshi practitioners focus on the pressure points associated with the body’s endocrine system, which is a network of glands that distribute hormones throughout the body.

Chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation

Chiropractors assist the body’s natural ability to heal by focusing on the skeleton, particularly on the spine and the nerves that run through it. Chiropractors do not use drugs or surgery. By manipulating the spine, they can relieve stress as well as musculoskeletal disorders like headache and back pain. Most of the conditions treated by chiropractors are not associated with HIV; however, people with HIV use chiropractors to manage symptoms such as headaches or insomnia. Although their main tool is spinal manipulation, chiropractors also use ultrasound and the application of heat and light. They frequently use X-rays to aid in diagnosis.

Osteopathic doctors use manual manipulation techniques similar to those used by chiropractors but focus more on the body’s soft tissues, the muscles and the ligaments. They may be helpful in treating headaches, joint and muscle pain or fatigue.


Reflexology aims to influence the health of different parts of the body by applying pressure to "reflex" points on the feet and hands. Each reflex point is associated with a different part of the body. Applying pressure to these points affects the health of the corresponding area of the body. Reflexologists do not use lotions or oils as part of the massage, nor do they diagnose specific illnesses. Reflexology is used to reduce stress and tension, improve circulation and eliminate toxins. Reflexologists also work on reflex points that may stimulate the immune system.