In addition to traditional medication and psychotherapy, there are other effective options for relieving symptoms of depression. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), for example, offers numerous remedies, such as massage therapy, that may help. Depending on the severity of your depression, massage therapy alone may control your symptoms, or it may be one component of a multi-pronged approach to treating your depression.

Massage therapy has been around for thousands of years. There are many types of massage, such as Swedish massage (the most popular), reflexology, and Shiatsu. However, all involve a trained therapist applying pressure and motion to your muscles and connective tissue. Massage increases circulate, promotes relaxation, alleviates symptoms of mental disorders, and reduces pain.

Does Massage Work for Depression?

Although it's difficult to perform double-blind studies to scientifically prove the effectiveness of massage therapy, there's plenty of support for its therapeutic value in treating depression. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers concluded that massage therapy can produce "potentially significant effects." In fact, about 20 percent of cancer patients employ massage therapy to relieve their disease-related stress and depression.

While medical experts are still trying to fully understand how massage therapy reduces the symptoms of depression, they suspect there are several factors involved. During massage, the body releases oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and promotes relaxation. Massage may also trigger the release of serotonin and endorphins. Both are neurotransmitters that make us feel good.

In studies with depressed teens, those who received massage had significant and long-lasting reduction in cortisol and norepinephrine (stress hormones) levels and reported feeling less anxiety and depression for up to five days. In other studies, researchers found that a single session of massage reduced event-specific anxiety, while multiple sessions reduced general anxiety, depression, and pain.

Depression can cause a wide range of symptoms including chronic pain, headaches, clenching or grinding teeth, muscle tension, and stiffness. Deep relaxation from massage therapy can make you aware of your body and help you release some of the physical tension you've accumulated. Massage advocates also believe that massage makes it possible for people to let go of their concerns, at least for a while, and offers an opportunity to release overwhelming emotions while being touched in a safe setting.

If you'd like to try massage therapy to relieve your depression, find a professional who's been certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association.


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National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Massage Therapy: An Introduction." Web. June 2009.

Group Health Research Institute. "Massage eases anxiety, but no better than simple relaxation does." Web. 8 March 2010.

Cassileth, Barrie, Heitzer, Marjet, and Gubili Jyothirmai. "Integrative Oncology: Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care." Cancer Chemotherapy Review 3(4) (2008): 204-211. Medscape Medical News. Web. 12 February 2009.

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Massage." Web. June 2009.