Suffering from depression? Get a massage!

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Anyone who has ever had a massage will know how good it feels, and how beneficial it can be for relieving stress and promoting a relaxed state of being. So if we know this why don’t we arrange to have a massage more often?

As human beings we need human touch, this is nothing new, but most of us don’t bother. Now research into massage has revealed just how important touch is for our mental health and how it can help alleviate depression and given the unpleasant side effects experienced by many antidepressant drugs, the possibility of new treatment options for depression is welcome news indeed.

Dr Wen-Hsuan Hou of I-Shou University in Kaohsiung in Taiwan and colleagues recognised that research into the possible benefits of massage was problematic. First of all, it isn’t possible to carry out ‘blind’ studies but at the same time there is good evidence that massage therapy can be an effective treatment for depression.

They also recognised and stated in their report that depression is a major public health problem and that the treatment for depression is often inadequate.

What the researchers did to investigate the benefits of massage for depression was look at 17 previous trials involving a total of 786 people, where massage therapy had been used on depressed patients.

In four of these trials, those given massage had been compared to those receiving no treatment at all. In the remaining 13 trials, massage had been compared to either Chinese herbs or relaxation techniques. To determine the effects, the studies used a variety of methods for evaluating depression and mood.

Dr Hou and his colleagues found that massage therapy had potentially significant effects in alleviating the symptoms of depression.

So what is it about massage that is so beneficial?

According to the researchers, massage can reduce stress, induce relaxation, and build a sense of trust between the therapist and the patient leading to release of Oxytocin. They are now calling for well designed longer follow up studies including accurate outcome measures. Their research was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Massage therapy hasn’t quite got to the stage where it is prescribed in a doctor’s surgery but given the evidence, perhaps it should be.

According to the Touch Research Institute in Miami, who have conducted over 100 research studies into massage therapy, massage therapy will not only alleviate the symptoms of depression and reduce stress; it will also improve the immune system, reduce pain, enhance attentiveness and promote weight gain in premature babies and much more too.

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