Massage Therapy for Anxiety and Depression

Massage Therapy for Anxiety and Depression

 First posted February 01, 2013 • Massage Therapy

There are many complementary health approaches that can have a positive effect on anxiety and depression and Massage Therapy is one of them. The majority of my clients, that suffer from a diagnosed anxiety and/or depressive disorder, have reported their level of anxiety and depression is significantly decreased after a treatment and this effect can last for days after the massage.

The spectrum of anxiety and depression go from mild forms to very severe. Both depression and anxiety occur often in our daily lives. In the case of anxiety, the mild short-lived situational anxiety is a natural process in our body and is based on a fear reaction. It is an important survival mechanism and can trigger our flight or fight response if we need to escape from danger. Things like public speaking, test taking, new situations, and new and serious health symptoms can all trigger situational anxiety. If the anxiety becomes prolonged, then it can lead to numerous symptoms including a state of nervousness and leads to physical and emotional pain. Depression on the other hand doesn’t have as clear of an everyday application. The blues or feelings of unhappiness, loss, and sadness happen regularly for most people, but what purpose does it serve? It could be a way to slow down our body/mind to allow time to process these difficult life circumstances. It also seems to be part of the normal stages of dealing with certain situations. If feelings of depression become prolonged then the symptoms will often disrupt the person’s daily life and they will be unable to cope and often stop their normal activities. Clients with clinical depression will often experience some form of body pain, which becomes exacerbated by the lack of activity that will increase the body pain, decrease joint and muscle functions.

The benefits from massage therapy have a multi-tiered approach. The massage treatment: directly helps the feelings anxiety and depression, targets the physical symptoms that occur due to the client’s reaction to their anxiety and depression, and massage increases the client’s perceived feelings of energy. Massage therapy can reduce the cortisol levels (a stress hormone) of the client that helps to decrease the stress symptoms like increased blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of anxiety. The treatment also can affect neurotransmitters in the brain, increasing serotonin and dopamine levels that can help reduce depression. By directly decreasing the levels of anxiety and depression, the massage will also have an effect on the corresponding body pain that the client feels due to their condition. When their condition is more prolonged or severe, they will start getting secondary body effect due to the loss of activity and personal maintenance: like exercising (stretching/strengthening) and any movement based activity walking, gardening, housework. The less active we are, for whatever reason, the more restricted our body becomes presenting as decreased joint range, tight, sore muscles, and generalized fatigue. Massage will treat the tight muscles, increasing the blood flow (like a walk would) to help maintain the muscles even of the client is unable to on their own. By releasing the muscles, the joints will have better range of motion. We can even do specific techniques on the joints to stretch ligaments that have become shortened. Many clients feel and increased energy due to their massage treatments that can help to increase their physical activity post-treatment, which will be beneficial for their physical symptoms and general health. Beyond the focused treatment, clients with anxiety and depression will benefit purely by the safe touch of another human being. People with more serious depression and anxiety can struggle with personal relationships and often isolate themselves. By connecting with their RMT and having physical contact the profound effect on their mental and physical state is hard to measure.

Massage therapy has been proven to be an effective part of your holistic approach to your anxiety and depression. It will be most effective when used in combination with counseling, diet, exercise, western medical treatment and/or naturopathic care. With proper care many people lead full productive lives even though they have been diagnosed with an anxiety and/or depressive disorder.

Sources and Resources:

  • Continuing Education Course Notes by Debra Curtis, RMT

  • Moyer CA, Rounds J, Hannum JW. (2004) A meta-analysis of massage therapy research. Psychological Bulletin 130(1): 3-18

  • Chen WL, Liu GJ, Yeh SH, Chiang MC, Fu MY, Hsieh YK. (2012) Effect of Back Massage Intervention on Anxiety, Comfort, and Physiologic Responses in Patients with Congestive Heart Failure. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2012 Nov 27

  • Garner B, Phillips LJ, Schmidt HM, Markulev C, O’Connor J, Wood SJ, Berger GE, Burnett P, McGorry PD. (2008) Pilot study evaluating the effect of massage therapy on stress, anxiety and aggression in a young adult psychiatric inpatient unit. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 42:414-422

  • Diego MA, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Shaw JA, Rothe EM, Castellanos D, Mesner L, (2002) Aggressive adolescents benefit from massage therapy. Adolescence 37(147):597-607

  • Collinge W, Wentworth R, Sabo S. (2005) Integrating complementary therapies into community mental health practice: an exploration. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2005 Jun: 11(3): 569-74

  • Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M, Medina L, Delgado J, Hernandez A. (2012). Yoga and massage therapy reduce prenatal depression and prematurity; Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2012 Apr: 16(2) 204-209