Massage for Anxiety and PainMay 5, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
Massage is a dramatically under utilized healing modality. Maybe it’s just hard to imagine that something that feels so good can actually provoke tangible benefits in the body and mind. There is also the common perception that a massage is an indulgence. Given the current economic climate, the likelihood of “indulging” in such a treatment becomes even more remote.
The reality is that therapeutic massage provides very real and quantifiable health effects that help us live happier and healthier lives. In addition, it can offer a viable alternative or synergistic support to conventional treatments. The issue of cost can also be managed by strategically using your health insurance and/or engaging in home based, amateur massage with a trusted partner.
One of the most promising areas of massage research is in relation to reducing anxiety levels and improving mood. Several studies published this year offer solid validation for that claim.
- In the May 2009 issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, a trial involving 8 patients with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) found that massage therapy allowed these patients to gain control of anxious feelings. The patients described experiencing relaxation of both body and mind, a decrease in anxiety and an improvement in self-confidence. (1)
- A March 2009 study provides a model for how we can apply home massage to improve mental health. The parents of 17 young patients with SCD (sickle cell disease) were trained to perform a nightly massage on their children. The parents were provided with basic training and periodic supervision. This practice of massage therapy resulted in a several positive changes in the SCD children: a decrease in anxiety, depression, pain and a greater ability to function normally. (2)
- Other positive psychological changes often accompany the reduction in anxiety. For instance, a Swedish study of severely ill patients found two key psychological benefits to massage: a) a feeling of being “released from an illness for a while” and; b) deep satisfaction resulting from the perception of “thoughtful attention”. (3)
- Another interesting finding is that these effects may extend beyond the individual being massaged. A recent trial involved a group of depressed pregnant women who received twice weekly massage from their partners (starting at week 20 and extending until the end of their pregnancy). The women described improvements in back and leg pain and lower levels of anger, anxiety and depression. What fascinated me the most was that the partners also reported an improvement in mood. As a result, their overall relationship scores improved, as measured by a “relationship questionnaire”. (4)
- Even brief exposure to massage can immediately transform your internal make-up and state of mind. This is illustrated in a study conducted at Kyushu University in Japan. 32 healthy women were given a 45 minute facial massage. Various tests were administered prior to the facial and afterward. The volunteers demonstrated a reduction in psychological distress directly after the massage, indicating a very quick response time. (5)
One area of scientific interest is potential of massage therapy for those receiving conventional cancer treatment. A brand new study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the effects of therapeutic massage in a group of women with breast cancer. The women received a 30 minute massage once weekly for three consecutive weeks. A wide range of benefits were reported including less anxiety, better sleep quality and an improvement in everyday function and overall quality of life. Some of the volunteers also mentioned fewer instances of nausea and decreases in pain and distress. (6)
These findings are supported by a new scientific review on the use of massage in cancer patients. A total of 14 trials were included in the assessment. The authors concluded that massage may be helpful in alleviating fatigue, mood-related issues, nausea and pain. The current state of evidence was considered “encouraging” but preliminary. (7) The same basic position was presented in a German summary paper as well. (8) It’s important to remember that all cancer patients should consult their physicians prior to starting a course of massage therapy. There may be certain cases where it’s not appropriate.
The issue of pain often comes up when examining the science of massage. There is little doubt that massage feels good. But beyond that, it does appear that it can also help manage long-term pain conditions. As an example, a recent trial conducted on 25 fibromyalgia patients found that “connective tissue massage” brought about significant reductions in pain intensity, “pain pressure threshold” and health-related quality of life. The women in the study received five treatments a week for a three week period. (9)
EPDS = Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)
It’s also reassuring to know that various forms of massage appear to be effective. I personally enjoy reflexology, a foot massage that stimulates specific points on the soles of the feet that supposedly correspond to organs and systems in the body. (10) In February 2009, a 6 week study provided evidence that reflexology could benefit those with (MS) multiple sclerosis by reducing anxiety and stress hormone levels. I’ve also tried shiatsu. A review from October of 2008 followed a group of over 600 shiatsu patients. The researchers found that almost 80% of the people engaging in regular shiatsu made other positive changes in their health-related lifestyle. A 16-22% reduction in conventional medicine and a 15-34% decline in medication use were also noted. (11)
Finally, I’d like to add that giving a massage is a really good work out! It not only strengthens muscles, but also helps one become better attuned to the human body and gain a level of sensitivity that might not otherwise be attained.
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Anxiety, Depression, Massage
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health, Women's Health