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The Effects of Massage Therapy on Anxiety

We Are All a Little Anxious.

According to a 2020 Pew Research study, one-third of Americans suffered from heightened levels of psychological distress as a result of COVID-19. The federal stay-at-home orders, social distancing requirements, mask mandates, and varying state orders paired with the volatile coronavirus case numbers are particularly troublesome for those who suffer from anxiety and depression. 

Now that a return to “normalcy” is right around the corner with businesses reopening in troves and large segments of the population completely vaccinated, we must now assess the psychological damage and chart a course of action. 

Anxiety treatments often include behavioral therapy, medication, group therapy, hypnosis, regular exercise, and a refined diet. But, did you know that massage therapy is also an effective method for reducing symptoms of anxiety? 

Massage therapy promotes effective relaxation techniques that reduce muscle tension, promote feelings of peacefulness and calm, and lower blood pressure. The result of regular massage therapy is reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Let’s explore further. 

What is Massage Therapy?

When you think “massage therapy,” you may envision fluffy robes, cucumber water, relaxing aromas, and low lighting… Elevator music, deep breathing, and tension release. As the massage therapy client, these peaceful images are the exact sentiments day spas, massage therapy chains, and boutique massage parlors wish to evoke. 

But, massage therapy is much more than a “thing that makes you feel good.” Massage therapy is a category of integrative medicine performed by a licensed professional. Massage therapy manipulates the soft tissues of one’s body (including muscles, connective tissue, ligaments, and tendons) in varying pressures to offer a wide range of health benefits. 

The earliest, historical records on the topic of massage date back to Ancient China in 2700 BC. “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” is the oldest identified piece outlining Chinese medicine and the art of healing. This ancient text identifies acupuncture and acupressure as tools for continued health and wellness. 

Fast-forward 200 years and ancient Egyptians introduced and developed reflexology. In 1500 BC, the introduction of ayurvedic medicine popularized the concept of mind, body, and spirit symbiosis, which plays a large role in one’s overall health and wellness. Skip forward another 700 years, and Greek culture utilized massage therapy for athletic support. The result was the development of the modern-day sports massage. It wasn’t until 1800 AD that Dr. Per Henril Ling introduced Swedish massage therapy techniques that catapulted massage therapy into the 21st Century. 

Massage therapy has inevitably evolved over the past 4,000 years. Various cultures and ideologies refined massage treatments over a span of 4 millennium to reveal the multi-faceted, holistic massage therapy practice we know today. Thanks, ancestors!

The Benefits of Massage Therapy

The benefits of massage therapy are wide-ranging and include both remedies for tangible, physical ailments and intangible, emotional stressors. 

While massage therapy has a large scope of cognitive, physical, and emotional benefits, the key benefits are: 

  • Relieve stress
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relieve tension headaches
  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce symptoms of depression

Types of Massage Therapy

There are more than 80 types of massage therapy techniques, each with its own set of unique benefits. Depending on the client’s condition, their pain points, pressure preferences, and muscle tension, the massage therapist can recommend a specific technique best suited for the individual client. 

The most popular massage therapy techniques are:

  • Swedish Massage – The most popular, full-body massage. This type of massage is considered gentle and great for first-time massage recipients.
  • Aromatherapy Massage – A massage technique that utilizes diluted essential oils to treat a wide variety of ailments. The essential oils are used topically and through aromatherapy
  • Hot Stone Massage – This type of massage therapy is similar to the Swedish massage therapy technique in delivery, however, the massage therapist utilizes hot rocks to further balance the mind and energy levels.
  • Deep Tissue Massage – Deep tissue massages are a variation of the Swedish massage therapy techniques but with deeper pressure. This helps to remove any knots and alleviate pain. 
  • Shiatsu Massage – A Japanese massage therapy technique, which uses fingers, palms, and elbows for sufficient pressure. 
  • Thai Massage – Thai massage is a more active form of massage therapy utilizing movements and stretching to relieve tension. 
  • Pregnancy Massage – Pregnancy massage is a gentle massage technique that focuses on common pregnancy pain points including lower back, legs, and hips.
  • Sports Massage – While sports massages are used on athletes for optimal performance, they can also be used to prevent injury or improve flexibility and mobility.
  • Trigger Point Massage – Trigger point massages isolate particularly tight areas in the muscle tissue that cause pain. 
  • Reflexology – Reflexology is a technique that utilizes pressure points in specific regions to target tension, pain, anxiety and stress. Reflexology is not a full body massage. 
  • Chair Massage – Chair massage is a quick massage therapy technique that focuses solely on the back, neck, and shoulders.

Massage Therapy for Anxiety

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States affecting 18.1% of the adult population 18-years and older (roughly 40 million people). 

Anxiety is a treatable condition with traditional medicine, alternative medicine, or a combination of both forms of treatment. 

Massage therapy is considered a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatment method alongside other practices including acupuncture, herbs, yoga, vitamins, and more. According to a 2020 market size, share, and trend analysis report from Grand View Research, the global complementary and alternative medicine market is expected to increase by 22% between 2021 and 2028. That’s huge growth!

While massage therapy has only recently been used as a secondary treatment of anxiety disorders, it is certainly an effective method. Massage therapy incorporates relaxation techniques that reduce tension, promote calm, lower cortisol levels, and lower blood pressure levels. 

In a 2016 randomized control trial in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers found that Swedish massage therapy, in particular, reduced the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Dr. Mark Rapaport, the study’s leader, explained that massage therapy increases the body’s parasympathetic response (the body’s “read and digest” response), which helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and adrenaline. Dr. Rapaport also reported that many of the trial’s participants remained free from anxiety for months after treatment. 

The Best Types of Massage for Anxiety

All types of massage therapy techniques are effective for reducing the symptoms of anxiety. Some massage therapy techniques, however, are more effective for treating anxiety; these massage therapy techniques include: Swedish, deep tissue, shiatsu, hot stone, thai, and aromatherapy. 

Swedish massage techniques, as indicated in the study referenced above, are effective for reducing symptoms of GAD. Both Swedish massages and hot stone massages promote relaxation and improve sleep. 

Thai massages, on the other hand, are equally effective for a reduction in anxiety symptoms, but in a different way. Thai massages boost energy levels and stimulate the mind for an all-over mood boost. 

Shiatsu massages incorporate acupressure techniques to improve chi (the body’s vital energy) and restore mind and body balance. The Japanese Shiatsu massage does not require the use of oil or lotion making this technique one of the very few massage therapy techniques that do not require clothing removal.

Explore Powerful Massage Therapy Techniques

Massage therapy is a rewarding practice that provides necessary treatment to people suffering from various ailments. A massage therapist can alleviate pain points, eliminate stress, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve the overall health and longevity of their clients. 

If massage therapy as an alternative form of medicine piques your interest, Avenue Five Institute offers the only 6-month, 750 hour Advanced Massage Therapy Program in Austin. Our program provides the hands-on experience and industry support needed to pave your path to success. 

Visit our massage therapy program page for enrollment information, start dates, and FAQ’s. 

Your future is now.