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Massage Can Reduce Symptoms of Depression

Approved October 2011

Position Statement

It is the position of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) that massage therapy can be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression.

Background Information

One definition of depression can be found in the dictionary as "a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason."1 

Not all people with depressive illnesses will have the same symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health states, "The severity, frequency and duration of symptoms will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness."3

Symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment3

Depression can be an expensive and devastating condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control,"Depression can adversely affect the course and outcome of common chronic conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Depression also can result in increased work absenteeism, short-term disability, and decreased productivity."2

The CDC has found that depression affects 1 in 10 adults in the US.2  Those that are most affected are: "persons 45-64 years of age, women, blacks, Hispanics, non-Hispanic persons of other races or multiple races, persons with less than a high school education, those previously married, individuals unable to work or unemployed, and persons without health insurance coverage."2

The CDC also recommends "collaborative care, an approach that involves the collaboration of primary care providers, mental health specialists and other providers to improve disease management for adults with major depression on the basis of strong evidence of effectiveness in improving short-term depression outcomes."2

Research indicates massage can:

Improve mood4
Reduce depression4:

  • in those with chronic pain6
  • in those with chronic pain over time6
  • in hospice patients7, 18
  • in children with cancer8
  • in children with HIV9
  • in pregnant women10, 25
  • associated with lower back pain11,12
  • in those with tension-type headaches13 
  • in children and adolescent psychiatric patients15
  • in women with breast cancer16, 17
  • in people with chronic disease19
  • in adolescent mothers20
  • in those with chronic fatigue syndrome21
  • in those with high blood pressure22
  • in those with fibromyalgia23
  • in adults with multiple sclerosis24
  • in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder26
  • in women in labor27

Reduce trait anxiety and depression with a course of treatment providing benefits similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy14

Note: Some research sample sizes are small, and not all are randomized trials.

References*

1. Depression. 2009. In Dictionary.com on-line dictionary. Retrieved March 23, 2011

2. Depression affects 1 in 10 Adults. (2011). Retrieved March 23, 2011, from Centers for Disease Control website: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsDepression.  

3. What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression. (2009). Retrieved April 30, 2011, from the National Institute of Mental Health website.