Massage therapy has been praised in recent years due to its effect on both physical and mental health. Massage is the manipulation of soft tissues in the body. Massage techniques are commonly applied with hands, fingers, elbows, knees, forearms, feet, or a device. The purpose of massage is generally for the treatment of body stress or pain however it can also alleviate some of the symptoms of mental illness and neurological disorders.
Depression & Anxiety:
In an immune study on breast cancer patients, the women were given two 30-min massages per week for five weeks. The results suggested that depression and anxiety were significantly reduced after the massage compared to the control condition. In another breast cancer study it was reported that patients had reduced depression and increased dopamine and serotonin (both activating neurotransmitters) as well as increased natural killer cell number and lymphocytes. The increased dopamine and serotonin may have mediated both the decrease in depression and the increased immune cells.
Several studies show that massage therapy by a therapist and by significant others reduces prenatal depression and in turn increases gestational age and birthweight of new-born babies. In a recent study, massage therapy was compared to yoga, with yoga being considered a form of self-massage. Both groups of prenatally depressed women became less depressed and their new-borns were greater gestational age and birthweight. Despite the positive findings for both groups, the effects are confounded by yoga also being a source of social support from other prenatally depressed women in the group sessions.
Pain and Anxiety in Veterans:
In one of the very few studies on massage therapy with veterans, positive effects were reported. The 153 veterans who received massage experienced reduced pain and anxiety following massage. These data, however, were pre-post treatment data without a comparison control or treatment group.
Sleep in Children with Autism:
Children with autism spectrum disorder often have sleep problems. In a recent review of the literature eight studies were identified that explored non-behavioural and non-pharmacological approaches to managing sleep problems in these children. Positive outcomes were reported for massage therapy. In an earlier study, when parents massaged their children with autism before bedtime, the children’s sleep improved (shorter latency to sleep, longer sleep time and fewer instances of waking in the night).
In a study on Parkinson’s, Amma massage therapy was used to alleviate physical symptoms. This study assessed the effects of one forty-minute Amma massage session involving upper and lower limb exercises as compared to a control group. After only one session, the analogue scale scores were lower for muscle stiffness, movement difficulties, pain and fatigue. On the more objective measures, gait speed was significantly faster, stride length was lengthened and shoulder flexion and abduction were improved. After several sessions the authors found improvements on the same measures. There was also a decrease in norepinephrine and epinephrine (stress neurotransmitters) which could mediate the physical symptoms associated with Parkinson’s.
Rapaport, M. H., Schettler, P. J., Larson, E. R., Carroll, D., Sharenko, M., Nettles, J., & Kinkead, B. (2018). Massage therapy for psychiatric disorders. Focus, 16(1), 24-31.