Most people seek out massage therapy when they’ve injured their back or pulled a muscle. However, what many people don’t realize is that massage has even greater benefits when it comes to healing mental conditions such as anxiety.
In any year, anxiety disorders afflict about 40 million adults in the U.S., according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, making it the most common mental illness. Massage therapy has conclusively been shown to help alleviate anxiety and depression without the negative side effects associated with medication. Despite its effectiveness, massage isn’t seen as a recommended treatment because its benefits are not widely understood by the traditional clinical community.
In fact, regular massage has been proven to be equally effective to traditional anxiety treatment of psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals. In 2004, researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wanted to see how effective massage therapy was in nine different areas, including its effect on blood pressure, heart rate, pain, anxiety and depression. After analyzing 37 studies, the researchers found that, by far, massage therapy’s most substantial effect was in reducing chronic or “trait” anxiety. In fact, massage therapy’s benefits were equivalent to psychotherapy — massage therapy participants experienced a reduction of trait anxiety 77% compared to 79% improvement for the average psychotherapy client.
“Indeed, there are probably no other effects in Massage Therapy research that have been as consistently demonstrated as these mental health benefits,” writes Christopher A. Moyer, Ph.D., the lead researcher in the study.
A second study conducted by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center over a three-year period on 1,290 patients found that even a single massage reduced anxiety by 52%. Other studies have shown that receiving a series of massages provides an even greater impact on reducing anxiety and depression, suggesting that massage’s effects are cumulative.
A third, large-scale clinical trial evaluated the impact of massage/acupoint therapy to treat patients with a host of anxiety-related conditions. Over a rigorous five-and-a-half-year period, half the patients received massage/acupoint therapy treatments only, while the control group received traditional psychotherapy. The results show 90% of the massage/acupoint therapy patients showed improvement, compared to 63% for psychotherapy.
Most surprisingly, 76% of the massage/acupoint patients experienced complete remission of symptoms, compared to 51% for psychotherapy.
Massage therapy is proven to be effective at reducing anxiety and depression, in part, because it influences body chemistry. Researchers have also noted that the therapeutic alliance between massage therapist and client likely plays a significant role.
Junius Brown, owner of Elements Massage sees the positive impact locally.
“When we opened two years ago, our goal was to make the health benefits of regular massage affordable and available in Ridgefield,” Brown said. “Ridgefielders are health-conscious, active and lead stressful lives. I know we’re making a difference here, because I see it in the faces of our clients, and in their close relationships with their therapists.”
Elements Massage is located at 86 Danbury Road in Ridgefield. Learn more at ElementsMassage/com/Ridgefield.
Lorraine Gengo is the lead massage therapist at Elements Massage Ridgefield.