Therapeutic Massage to Treat Depression

Community Member

In exploring your depression treatment options you will undoubtedly find that talk therapy and/or medication are the treatments most prescribed for decreasing your depression. But are there other treatments which can help or at least "complement" traditional depression therapies? The answer is yes. We are going to be looking outside the box to present some alternative or complementary depression treatments which have been validated by scientific studies for their effectiveness in alleviating some of the symptoms of depression. We began this series by looking at the benefits of treating depression with laughter.   In this post we are going to look at another alternative therapy for depression, therapeutic massage.

Most people who get a massage report feelings of physical relaxation. Many people use massage as a way to soothe tired and overworked muscles. Others get a massage because it simply feels good. Massage is used by some athletes to help prevent or recover from sports injuries. It is also used to treat the symptoms of chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or Multiple Sclerosis. In fact, massage therapy may be one of the oldest healing techniques used by people across the world. There is much evidence that massage can benefit our physical body but what about our mood and emotions? There is evidence to show that massage is not only good for our physical well being but also for our mental health.

Research on the Benefits of Massage Therapy to Treat Depression

The following are some of the research findings on how massage can decrease the symptoms of mood disorders and related mental health issues.

  • In one news story we reported to you how massage may promote healing in grieving relatives.   According to a Swedish study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, a once a week 25-minute hand or foot massage helped those who had lost a loved one to cope with their grief.

  • A recent report published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reviewed the medical literature to find out if massage therapy was an effective treatment for depression.   Dr. Wen-Hsuan Hou of I-Shou University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and colleagues cited 17 studies which led the researchers to conclude that massage therapy had "potentially significant effects" in alleviating symptoms of depression.

  • A study published in Adolescence examined the benefits of music and massage therapies in treating depression in teens. The researchers concluded that both types of therapy have positive effects on brain activity in depressed teenagers. They recommend that music and massage therapy be reviewed more closely, for inclusion in traditional depression treatment programs for teens.

These are just several of the many scientific studies which show that massage can have a positive effect on our mental health and decrease some of the symptoms associated with depression and other related mental health disorders. For example, Dr. Marlene Freeman (Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women's Mental Health) writes about the research done with regard to using massage to treat the symptoms of depression related to pregnancy.

Although there is much research to validate massage therapy as an effective treatment for depression, some caution that one should not view this alternative therapy as a cure. For example, researcher Andrew Vickers has said "While it is far too simplistic to say that massage can cure depression, it can certainly help most people caught in its clutches to better cope with it and can improve their quality of life".

The way I see it, massage therapy is a low risk method of complementing your other depression treatment strategies. Do check with your health care provider, however, to make sure that massage therapy is safe for you and any medical conditions you may have.

Now that you know some of the benefits to massage therapy, the next question becomes, "How do I implement this treatment?" There are three ways you can do this and they include: Seeking out a qualified massage therapist, having your loved one learn how to give you a massage, and/or learning how to use self massage techniques. I am about to give you resources for each of these three choices.

How to Find a Qualified Massage Therapist

The American Massage Therapy Association is a good place to start. On their main page is a massage therapist finder by your geographic location.

There is also an on-line massage therapist referral service offered by Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals.

Here is more information about how massage therapists are licensed or certified and what credentials to ask about in your prospective massage therapist from The American Massage Therapy Association.

Giving or Receiving a Massage from a Loved One

There are a lot of instructional materials and videos out there about how to give a massage.   While it may not be the same experience as if you went to a professional massage therapist, receiving a massage from a loved one may provide some special bonding moments for both people. I remember a friend telling me about her last days spent with her dying mother. She would gently massage her mother's face and neck. My friend told me that it was incredibly healing for her to be able to help her mother in this way.   She said it was a memory which helped her cope when her mother passed away.

There is great power in the human touch to communicate love and care.

Here is a video about "Depression Massage Therapy" to guide you through some of the basics of how massage can help with depression.

How to do a Therapeutic Self Massage

If you don't have access to someone who can give you a massage you can always use self massage techniques. Here are some resources to help.

  • One massage tool I have purchased, which I love, is called "The Tingler Therapeutic Scalp Massager."   I bought mine at a gift store for only five bucks. They make great gifts. A scalp massage can be relaxing and invigorating, an experience not to be missed

Now we want to hear from you. Have you ever had a professional therapeutic massage? Do you think a regular massage could help decrease some of the symptoms of your depression? Let us know your thoughts. We are listening!