Stand aside, Dr Freud…
It looks like the massage chair will be replacing the psychotherapist’s couch.
One of the most significant massage studies conducted in the past decade has been a meta-analysis of existing research to determine the true benefits of massage.
They broadly defined massage therapy as the “the manual manipulation of soft tissue intended to promote health and well-being.”
For this meta-analysis, the researchers did and exhaustive review of the research literature and found 144 studies that used massage therapy and that involved adult humans (i.e. no animal or infant massage). They further filtered their results to include only those studies that
- had a control group,
- used random assignment to groups, and
- reported sufficient data on at least one “dependent variable of interest” (i.e. state and trait anxiety, depression, immediate and delayed pain perception, cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, negative mood)
In the end, only 37 studies met their strict criteria and these were used for the meta-analysis.
In simple terms, doing a meta-analysis of data involves combining all the studies together, which results in a larger sampling of subjects, in this case 1,802 participants. By doing this you get a more accurate indication of results than you would get from any one particular study. They looked at the results of a single massage (called “single dose” in the study) distinctly from multiple sessions of massage (“multiple dose”).
Participants in studies who received just one massage were more likely to experience a reduction in state anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate, than participants in the control groups. Cortisol levels, immediate assessment of pain, and negative mood showed no significant improvements. Multiple applications of massage had greater benefits in reducing pain for the long term.
A series of massages brought about reductions of trait anxiety and depression and provided benefits similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy
What is undoubtedly the most notable finding is that a series of massages brought about reductions of trait anxiety and depression and provided benefits similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy.
Researchers have known for ages that stress is a key predisposing factor for anxiety and depression have very strong links and biological mechanisms have been recently established (Magalhaes, Holmes, et als. Nature Neuroscience 13, 622–629 (2010)).
Depression is no small problem. The World Health Organization states that in Western cultures, depression has the distinction of placing a greater burden on society than any other disease. In the USA, more than 21 million people suffer from depression.
Given the prevalence of anxiety and depression and considering the fact that massage may be just as beneficial as psychotherapy in treating these disorders, chair massage can have a powerful role in improving people’s lives.
The researchers found that the length of the massage had no significant impact on its effectiveness
The researchers found that the length of the massage had no significant impact on its effectiveness. So there is really no difference in terms of the impact of massage on anxiety and depression between a 15 minute chair massage or a one hour long table massage.
However, getting multiple or frequent massages did seem to be very important. Because the shorter timeframes used for chair massage mean a lower per treatment cost, chair massage can be an affordable solution to those suffering depression and anxiety.
Step aside, Dr Freud: Chair massage is coming.
Source: Moyer, C., Rounds, J., & Hannum, J. (2004). A Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy Research. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 130, No. 1, 3-18.