Anxiety treatment and depression treatment are becoming increasingly popular avenues for research. Massage therapy is becoming widely accepted, and is no longer considered as a luxury treatment; it is being credited with tangible health benefits. Pain reduction and muscle relaxation are the most commonly recognized benefits, but in fact some of the largest effects of massage therapy are psychological rather than physical-though these may be more connected than one would first think. Recent research has show promising results for the reduction of anxiety and, to a lesser extent, depression, though both still need more focused study to fully understand the effects and causal mechanisms, and to determine treatment appropriate protocols to maximize effects. These new findings, along with continued research, could influence the future treatment of mental health.
“About 20% of adults in Canada will experience some type of mental illness in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders affect about 12% of the population, while major depression affects nearly 8% of adults.”
About 20% of adults in Canada will experience some type of mental illness in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders affect about 12% of the population, while major depression affects nearly 8% of adults. Traditional first line treatments for anxiety and depression are psychotherapy and medication. However, the effectiveness of both varies depending on several factors, and both types of treatment may present complications such as non-compliance, high costs and unpleasant side effects. Given the potential complications with current common treatments, the discovery of new treatment options is desirable.
Research has consistently shown that massage therapy can reduce anxiety. In fact, the reduction of anxiety is among the largest effects of massage therapy documented. Recent meta-analysis concluded that just a single session of massage therapy can reduce state anxiety in children and adults, while multiple treatment sessions reduce trait anxiety in both children and adults. These effects are similar to those observed in anxious individuals receiving psychotherapy, suggesting that there may be many parallels between psychotherapy and massage therapy.
Despite the amount of evidence indicating that massage therapy does indeed reduce anxiety, the causal mechanism behind this effect has not yet been identified. One of the most common theories is that massage therapy first reduces cortisol, a stress hormone, which then lowers levels of anxiety. However, studies reporting these findings consistently use inappropriate analyses. Furthermore, recent meta-analyses have failed to come to the same conclusions after re-analyzing the same data.
Another hypothesis is that massage therapy may reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, responsible for our fight or flight response, which could be one of the physiological changes that results in reduced anxiety. It seems possible that by reducing the stress response, and in turn heart rate, that anxiety could decrease. However, more research is needed to further understand this potential reasoning.
Yet another theory suggests that massage therapy alters the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which lead to reductions in depression.
However, these studies failed to use appropriate statistics for the study designs. Moreover, the roles of serotonin and dopamine in the cause and treatment of depression is still not completely understood by scientists.
A more recent theory is that massage therapy changes a person’s posture and that the resulting feedback received from the body is incompatible with being anxious. A 2004 study looked at the effect of posture on the ability to generate positive or negative thoughts. In the experiment, researchers had participants change between two different positions: (1) sitting up straight, keeping their heads up and eyes closed, and (2) slouching forward with their heads facing downwards and eyes closed. In each position, participants were asked to specifically think of a positive or negative memory and then rate the ease of generating the memory, the vividness of it, and how long they were able to hold it in mind. Results showed that positive thoughts were significantly easier to generate than negative thoughts in the upright position. Implications of this study are that posture can significantly influence one’s ability to generate positive thoughts. Could posture play a role in anxious and depressed feelings and, if so, could massage therapy influence them by altering posture? More research is needed to determine this potential relationship and effect.
By: Kim Goral Stevenson, MS LMT – an evaluation research analyst at the Boston University clinical and transitional science institute.
A word from Bodymed: Many consider that our stresses and anxiety get built up and localized in areas of our body. Much like an individual would have a strain in the back after a fall or slip in a sport or physical activity. Many people fail to address that their individual stress, anxiety or depression becomes represented in an area of the body.
It is proven that massage therapy will release certain neurotransmitters in our brain that will positively effect our mood and health. We must just have the willingness to try and be open to the possibility of it helping one with anxiety or depression. If you, or someone you know suffers from anxiety or depression do not hesitate to try Massage therapy today.