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Depression is one of the most common mental disorders today. It is estimated that 1 in 4 Canadians has sought treatment for depression at some point in their life. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that depression will be one of two leading disabilities worldwide by year 2020 (the other one being heart disease).

Massage Therapy

What is depression?

Depression differs in very important ways from sadness and grief experienced as a result of tragic or traumatic events in one’s life. These feelings are a normal reaction to such events, and usually just the passage of time dissipates them. Depressive illnesses, on the other hand, involve profound changes in a person. There can be a loss of interest in things previously enjoyed, such as sex or food, or a long-cherished hobby.

A person suffering from depression may experience sleeplessness, want to stay in bed all day, feel apathy and have a sense of hopelessness about everything in his/her life. If left untreated, these feelings can be debilitating and in extreme cases, life-threatening.

How does massage therapy benefit people suffering from depression?

Massage involves rubbing, kneading, stroking, and pressing certain points on the muscles to relieve tension, increase blood flow and promote relaxation. This in turns boosts mood and improves the overall sense of well-being. While there is no direct evidence that massage therapy alone can eliminate depression, there is enough research to suggest that getting a massage benefits people dealing with a depressive disorder.

What evidence is there to support the claim that massage therapy helps with depression?

In China, massage therapy has been used for over 3,000 years. Chinese practitioners maintain that massage alleviates a person’s feelings of alienation because the therapist’s touch releases hormones that connects us to another human being.

More recent studies support the position that massage therapy helps patients dealing with depression. An analysis of more than a dozen massage studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine determined that massage therapy reduces depression and anxiety by impacting the body’s biochemistry.

In a depressed patient, the brain produces less serotonin, dopamine and endorphins – the feel-good hormones. The study found that massage lowered the stress hormone cortisol by as much as 53% in its studies’ participants, and boosted serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that help decrease depression.

Experts such as Dr. Mason Turner, Chief of Psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco believe that massage therapy helps with the body-mind connection which is very helpful in stress management and overall health. Other research shows that massage helps ease depression related to specific health problems. A 2008 study from the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, found that massage helped pregnant women dealing with depression, and a 2010 study from Supportive Care In Cancer found that massage reduced depression among women with breast cancer. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has even come out with the position that massage therapy can be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression.

While massage therapy should never be relied on as the sole treatment for depression, a Swedish massage or another form of relaxation massage will definitely help those patients suffering from depression reduce stress and anxiety and calm the mind.

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