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Healing Hands: How Massage Therapy Helps With Depression   - Spa Industry Association
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You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy a professional massage, and for good reason. Massage therapy has been found to help muscles heal faster, increase a body’s immune response, and overall show great success in helping patients manage physical conditions. Massage therapy can help reduce cortisol levels in the blood and reduce a patient’s overall stress levels, and there are many other benefits purported by patients and practitioners alike.  

Massage therapy has seen increased use in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. However, is this form of treatment legitimate, or have massage therapists simply found another way to market an already popular product?  

As tough as it may be to fathom, it wouldn’t be the first time someone has misrepresented the medical effectiveness of their product – many bald men will tell you a tale of a snake oil salesman who promised their locks would fully grow back with a twice daily application of some mysterious remedy. So, is there any legitimacy to these claims that massage therapy can help with depression?  

Different Forms of Depression 

As of now, there has been a steadily increasing amount of evidence to support the idea that massage therapy may be able to help patients overcome various forms of depression.  

Symptoms of depression can be caused and/or exacerbated by a number of conditions – low levels of Vitamin D, lack of exercise, little to no social contact, a poor diet – the list goes on. In cases where symptoms of depression are external, massage therapy might be completely ineffective in helping a patient with symptoms of depression.  

In cases where depressive symptoms were a result of major depressive disorder, however, researchers have seen positive results. A Polish study analyzed how massage therapy sessions influenced HIV-positive patients with major depressive disorder, and found that twice-weekly sessions were effective at helping manage depressive symptoms.  

Swedish massage was effectively used to manage symptoms. The study took place over the course of 8 weeks, and researchers found “massage significantly reduced the severity of depression beginning at week 4 and continuing at weeks 6 and 8 compared to no intervention and/or touch.” 

How Does Massage Therapy Work?  

While massage therapy can’t directly combat the root causes of depressive symptoms caused by moderate to major depressive disorders, weekly massages can reduce symptoms. 

Massage therapy is fairly straightforward. It helps loosen rigid muscles caused by feelings of tension, stress, or poor mobility, while also helping sore muscles heal faster. Depressive patients often report feelings of soreness, fatigue, tight muscles, and tension, and massage therapy works by making these symptoms (largely) go away.  

Massage therapy also helps to increase blood flow, which improves your body’s circulation. This in turn can help make people with depression feel more up to exercising and socializing. Managing moderate to major depressive disorders can be a daunting task, as lack of naturally-produced serotonin combined with other depressive symptoms can make the idea of getting out of bed seem impossible – let alone showering, getting clothed and fed, and leaving the house to spend several hours socializing energetically with friends.  

While massage therapy is in no way a replacement for traditional means of treating depressive disorders, it seems to be very effective when used as a supplement to prescription medication and/or psychotherapy.  

Massage Therapy Is Becoming More Popular Than Ever Before 

Given what we’ve learned in the past twenty years about mental health and the various ways we can treat it, it’s no surprise that massage therapy has become more popularly recommended by medical professionals to patients with depressive disorders. The only downside of this is the affordability of sessions, as massages are not known for being cheap. A typical Swedish massage session can run you back $30-65 per 60 minute session depending on quality, the experience of the therapist, and your location.  

Additionally, booking the recommended number of sessions can prove difficult to manage, as patients might need to find 1-2 per week and continue this for several weeks before they begin seeing positive results. This can prove very costly and time-consuming, even if you have health insurance, as many insurance companies still view massage therapy as a form of alternative treatment, and subsequently won’t cover sessions. While there are methods you can use to help get coverage, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to do so.  

Perhaps in time massage therapy will be definitely proven to be effective at helping depressive patients treat their condition. However, as of now, insurance companies are demanding more proof, as there haven’t been any legitimate, large-scale studies based in the United States on whether or not massage therapy sessions can help treat depression. Until that happens, patients might be paying out of pocket.