Massage for anxiety and depression

Just five sessions of Swedish massage is enough to improve the symptoms of anxiety, new research finds. Levels of cortisol — known as the stress hormone — were also reduced. People who took part in the study also saw reduced depression symptoms.

Swedish massage is the type of deep-tissue massage that people are most familiar with.

Professor Mark Hyman Rapaport, the study’s first author, said:

“These finding are significant and if replicated in a larger study will have important ramifications for patients and providers.”

The study was carried out on 47 people with generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. People experiencing GAD find they are in near-constant anxiety.

With negative thoughts clouding their mind all day, it can be very hard to function normally. GAD is typically treated with therapy and/or medication.

For the study itself, a group given Swedish massage was compared with another group in which people received light touch. Both groups had the massage or light touch twice a week for six weeks. Each therapy session lasted 45 minutes.

The researchers found that massage reduced anxiety, along with depression symptoms, in comparison to the light touch condition.

Better than relaxing?

One previous study has found that massage is no better than simply being in a relaxing room with soft, soothing music (Sherman et al., 2010).

Dr Karen J. Sherman, that study’s first author, said:

“We were surprised to find that the benefits of massage were no greater than those of the same number of sessions of ‘thermotherapy’ or listening to relaxing music.
This suggests that the benefits of massage may be due to a generalized relaxation response.”

So the latest research could be a step up in the evidence for massage therapy.

Other studies have linked massage therapy to better sleep and improvements in the immune system.

The new study was published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (Rapaport et al., 2016).

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