Depression – Benefits of Massage
One definition of depression can be found in the dictionary as “a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason.”1
Not all people with depressive illnesses will have the same symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health states, “The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.”3
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment3
Depression can be an expensive and devastating condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control,”Depression can adversely affect the course and outcome of common chronic conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Depression also can result in increased work absenteeism, short-term disability, and decreased productivity.”2
The CDC has found that depression affects 1 in 10 adults in the US.2 Those that are most affected are: “persons 45-64 years of age, women, blacks, Hispanics, non-Hispanic persons of other races or multiple races, persons with less than high school education, those previously married, individuals unable to work or unemployed, and persons without health insurance coverage.”2
The CDC also recommends “collaborative care, an approach that involves the collaboration of primary care providers, mental health specialists and other providers to improve disease management for adults with major depression on the basis of strong evidence of effectiveness in improving short-term depression outcomes.”2
Research indicates massage can:
- in those with chronic pain6
- in those with chronic pain over time6
- in hospice patients7, 18
- in children with cancer8
- in children with HIV9
- in pregnant women10, 25
- associated with lower back pain11,12
- in those with tension-type headaches13
- in children and adolescent psychiatric patients15
- in women with breast cancer16, 17
- in people with chronic disease19
- in adolescent mothers20
- in those with chronic fatigue syndrome21
- in those with high blood pressure22
- in those with fibromyalgia23
- in adults with multiple sclerosis24
- in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder26
- in women in labor27
When your muscles and connective tissues become stiff or rigid, it can cause pain and limit your movement. Massage therapy can help relieve this tension in your muscles and connective tissues. It also increases your blood flow and promotes relaxation.
If you have depression, massage therapy probably won’t cure your condition. But it may help relieve the physical symptoms associated with it. For example, massage may help alleviate sluggishness, back pain, joint pain, and muscle aches. It can also help relieve fatigue and sleeping problems.
During massage therapy, your therapist will rub, stretch, and apply pressure to muscles in your body. Some styles of massage involve over-the-clothes touching. Others involve direct contact with your skin, often with scented oils. Some involve acupuncture needles, warm stones, or complex twisting poses.
Here are some common types of massage used in the United States:
- Swedish massage: In this common method, your therapist will apply smooth, circular, kneading actions to your muscles.
- Chair massage: In this method, you will sit on a special chair and lean forward into a headrest. This is a good introduction to massage since the sessions are usually short and don’t require you to remove any clothing.
- Deep tissue massage: Your massage therapist may use this method to treat tight muscles caused by stress or other problems. They will focus on the muscles closest to your bones, as well as their connective tissues.
- Shiatsu: In this technique, your therapist will apply firm pressure to specific points on your body, much like acupuncture. The pressure is more firm than in many types of massage, but it rarely produces stiffness afterward.
- Reflexology: In this type of massage, your therapist will apply pressure to areas of your feet that are believed to correspond with other systems and organs in your body.
- Aromatherapy massage: In this method, your therapist will combine massage with scented oils to help reduce stress or boost your energy.
- Hot stone massage: During this method, your therapist will place warm flat stones on your body to help relax your muscles. They will also apply pressure to the stones to relieve muscle tension.
When performed by a trained professional, massage therapy is generally safe for most people. You’ll find that it provides immediate gratification. You may feel relaxed and calm from the time your massage begins. You can combine it with more conventional treatment for depression, such as medication and psychotherapy.
Dr. Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Francisco, suggests that massage therapy can help treat depression by relieving muscle tension and improving physical health. Massage, he said, helps strengthen your body-mind connection.
“Anything that helps the person connect their mind and body together can be helpful.”
The practice can help improve your overall health and aid in stress management. It can help relax your body, which, in turn, can relax your mind too.
Stress is an inevitable part of life. It is almost impossible to take away all the stress and anxiety we may feel on a day-to-day basis. Research suggests that more than 90 percent of illness results from stress alone. Decreasing physical and emotional stress is optimal for improving overall health and well-being.
A 60-minute massage can lower cortisol, a hormone that’s produced in response to stress, by an average of 30 percent. And when cortisol levels decline, serotonin — one of the body’s anti-pain mechanisms — increases by an average of 28 percent after receiving a massage. By lowering cortisol and increasing serotonin, you’re boosting your body’s ability to fight off pain, anxiety, and feelings of sadness.
The emotional balance massage provides can be just as vital and valuable as the physical benefits. Massage provides a safe and nurturing place for individuals to relax, refocus, and find clarity. It can increase awareness of the mind-body connection. Massage can generate confidence and enhance self-image and self-worth.
Safe nurturing touch helps fulfill the need for human contacts, such as the comforting touch we once received at birth. For some, massage is the only caring touch they may receive. Massage can be considered an hour-long hug, providing you with a nurturing safe place to rest physically and emotionally.
I provide massage for many clients who are living with anxiety and depression, and the day-to-day symptoms those feelings bring. Most of them find relief after receiving a massage, saying they are able to feel more relaxed and calm and feel a sense of worth.
My focus as a licensed massage therapist is deep-relaxation therapeutic massage. I listen to my patients’ needs, and together, we create a treatment plan that works toward decreasing the symptoms that come with anxiety and depression. Many clients want to feel a sense of hope — therapeutic massage may help support you on your journey.
If you are one of the many who experiences depression or anxiety or is just overloaded with extra stress, massage can be an effective part of treatment supporting you to create a sense of relief, empowerment, and the mind-body connection.
What’s the Difference Between Swedish Massage and Deep Tissue Massage?
Swedish massage and deep tissue massage are both popular types of massage therapy. While there are some similarities, the pressure, technique, intended use, and areas of focus make Swedish and deep tissue different from each other.
Here are the key differences between these two massage styles, along with tips on choosing the right therapist for you.
Swedish massage is one of the most commonly offered massage techniques. It’s sometimes called a classic massage. The technique aims to promote relaxation by releasing muscle tension.
Swedish massage is gentler than deep tissue massage and better suited for people interested in relaxation and tension relief. Swedish massage may loosen up tight muscles caused by daily activities such as sitting at the computer or exercising. It can be very helpful for people who hold a lot of tension in their lower back, shoulders, or neck.
What happens during a Swedish massage?
During a Swedish massage, therapists use kneading, long strokes, deep circular movements, and passive joint movements. These techniques are meant to relax you, stimulate nerve endings, and increase blood flow and lymph drainage.
A traditional Swedish massage involves the whole body. You will begin on either your back or your stomach and flip over at the halfway point. If you have an area of particular concern, such as a tight neck, you can ask your therapist to spend more time in this area. Depending on your preferences, you can ask your massage therapist to use light, medium, or firm pressure.
During most full-body massages the expectation is you’ll be undressed. Your massage therapist will ask you to undress for your massage while they wait outside. It’s up to you whether or not to keep your underwear on. Your massage therapist will drape a sheet over your body, which they will pull back and adjust as they work their way around. You will be covered most of the time.
Your massage therapist will use oil or lotion to allow for smooth and long strokes. They may also ask if you have a preferred scent for aromatherapy.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage is similar to Swedish massage, but it goes farther. Deep tissue massage targets the inner layers of your muscles, tendons, and fascia (dense connective tissue). Deep tissue massage uses many of the same stroking and kneading movements as Swedish massage, but there is far more pressure. This pressure can sometimes be painful.
Deep tissue massage is best suited for athletes, runners, and people with injuries. It can also work for people with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and lower back pain.
This type of massage facilitates healing by releasing contracted areas of muscle and tissue. It can help increase blood flow to the soft tissues and may help to reduce inflammation.
What happens during a deep tissue massage?
Before a deep tissue massage, you will discuss your problem areas with your therapist. A deep tissue massage can be full-body or focus only on one area. You will begin lying on your back or stomach, under a sheet. It’s up to you to what level you undress.
Deep tissue massages begin as a more traditional relaxation massage. After the muscles are warmed up, your massage therapist will begin to work deep into your problem areas. In addition to their palms, fingertips, and knuckles, your therapist may use their forearms or elbows to increase pressure.
It’s important to be open with your massage therapist about the level of pressure and discomfort you wish to endure. This may be different for certain areas and throughout the massage, feel free to communicate with your massage therapist before and during the massage. Some massage therapists find the pain to be counterproductive to the process and expect you to speak up if the pain is too much.
You should expect a fair amount of soreness in the days following your deep tissue massage. Your therapist may recommend treating with ice, heat, or stretching.
*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader.