For people who are depressed, massage for depression is not a cure but may help lessen some of the symptoms and support recovery.
Depression is a brain disorder, and research has shown that the brains of depressed people look and act differently from the brains of people who aren't depressed. The causes of depression are not well understood, but most likely involve a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors.
Depression comes in many types. For example, major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally in daily life, while dysthymia is a milder, usually long-term, depression where a person can still function but probably isn't living a normal and full life. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which usually affects people during the winter months, is also a type of depression.
Often the most obvious symptom of depression is an overwhelming feeling of sadness, but depression has many other possible symptoms that vary depending on the type of depression and the individual. Common symptoms include:
- Appetite changes
- On-going physical problems, such as aches and pains, headaches, or digestive problems that don't improve with treatment
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, helplessness, or irritability
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Loss of interest or pleasure in life, including lack of sexual desire
- Trouble concentrating and making decisions.
The two most common depression treatments are medication and psychotherapy. Another treatment, primarily used for SAD, is light therapy, which involves exposure to a strong artificial light that mimics sunlight.
Massage for Depression
Touch is important to human beings - babies die without touch. Lack of touch may even contribute to depression. And, if a person is depressed, massage may help.
First, dealing with depression presents a lot of stress, and relaxation is one of the best benefits of massage. Depression can also lead to muscle tension and pain that massage can help relieve.
Beyond helping a person relax, massage may reduce the body's production of stress hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine, and may also increase the body's production of pain-killing endorphins and mood-altering serotonin. Studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami have shown:
- Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol immediately after massage.
- Increased serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin levels, helping elevate a person's mood, after massage.
- Increased production of oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and promotes relaxation, after massage.
These effects may occur because the skin and muscles contain many millions of nerve receptors that are linked to the nervous system. Touch and massage can stimulate the nerve receptors, causing the release of chemicals in the brain.
The benefits of massage for depression are further supported in a review, published in the March 2010 Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The authors reviewed 17 studies of massage for depression and concluded the studies supported the ability of massage therapy to significantly lessen symptoms of depression.
Plus, a great benefit of massage therapy is that it rarely has side effects, when received from a trained, qualified massage therapist. People who want to try massage for depression should always let their massage therapist know about their condition and other treatments and tell other healthcare providers that they are receiving massage.