Q: How does Massage Therapy help treat depression?

Joel Ackerman, RMT

A: Nowadays someone who is dealing with depression has a growing number of treatment paths available to them. One option that research is showing to be more and more effective is Registered Massage Therapy. There is growing evidence that Massage is an effective part of a holistic approach to treating depression and other mood disorders. Massage Therapists are now educated about depression just like any other condition such as epilepsy or hypertension. Let’s examine the role that Massage Therapy can play as part of an integrated approach to dealing with depression.

The most well known benefits of Massage Therapy are stress reduction and relaxation. Stress arises from, and contributes to all illnesses. Massage Therapy helps combat stress by calming your nervous system and putting your body in a more relaxed state. In fact, Massage Therapy has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in your body by up to 40 percent after even a single massage! This is done by calming your Sympathetic Nervous System (your ‘fight or flight’ system), which allows your Parasympathetic Nervous System to become more active (your ‘rest and digest’ state). Along the same lines, anyone who has had a nice relaxing massage will tell you there is very calming feeling of well-being you experience following a massage. Part of this is this shift in your nervous system, but part of it is a release of neurotransmitters, namely serotonin and endorphins. Not surprisingly, these two neurotransmitters are often depleted in people experiencing depression!

Another important benefit is pain management. Pain perception tends to be higher in people with depression, so tight and aching muscles can feel a lot achier and downright painful in someone who is depressed. Interestingly, chronic pain has been shown in many cases to actually be a primary cause of depression. So finding a way to deal with chronic pain might go a long way to helping someone manage their depression, especially in cases where someone hasn’t experienced the benefits of Massage as a way of managing their pain.

The list of benefits from Massage Therapy doesn’t end there. Improved sleep (a topic discussed at length in a previous KIHC e-newsletter), and exercise support and recovery, are some examples of how Massage Therapy can be used as an effective tool. As you can see, Massage Therapy should not be overlooked as an effective complementary therapy for someone who is struggling with depression.