The Massage "Affect" on Anxiety and Depression


I know many people feel that booking in for a massage is an indulgence.  They wait for a gift voucher from a loved one, or save up once a year for their birthday. 

Many benefits of massage are still disconcertingly uncertain but while everyone is discussing those, a somewhat proven benefit is its positive effects on mood (1).

Massage has been shown to:

    1.    reduce depression

    2.     reduce anxiety


How often have you noticed your neck pain is at it's worst when you're under a lot of stress?  It will build up and up until you finally lean over to pick up your toothbrush and 'bam' you can't move your neck.  

Anxiety is a potent factor in all types of pain.  And in the case of lower grade anxiety and depression, the kind we all seem to be living with every day, massage can make a valuable contribution to your well being.


Although the neurophysiological effects are complex, the simple negative cycle that emerges when people are depressed or anxious, is that it's hard for them to do anything when they feel miserable.  As you continue to feel miserable, this leads to doing less, which in turn, leads to feeling worse.  

There is a boatload of evidence to support enjoyable movement and exercise to improve mood but how about not getting to the point of feeling miserable or trying to find someone to help you crawl out of that hole?

Most massage therapists are pretty nurturing types of humans.  They can provide a therapeutic support role through 'recovery' and encourage paced activity to incorporate self-management.


A leading researcher in this field is Christopher Moyer PhD who is a behavioural scientist primarily interested in the role of massage therapy on anxiety and depression or the human affect. 

I'll let him speak about the research he has accumulated on the subject about whether more massage is better:

"We made an interesting discovery concerning the effect of the treatment on the state of anxiety. When a series of massage therapy sessions was administered, the first session in the series provided significant reductions in anxiety, but the last session in the same series provided reductions that were almost twice as large. This pattern was consistent across every study we were able to examine, which strongly suggests that experience with massage therapy is an important predictor of its success, at least where anxiety is concerned. To put it another way, it is possible that the greatest benefits come about only when a person has learned how to receive massage therapy." (2)


You can all stop feeling guilty.  If you enjoy getting a massage then book one now and do something good for your mental health. Give yourself a pat on the back for being proactive about your wellbeing. Well done you!

(1) Christopher A. Moyer, PhD, Research Section Editor, IJTMB, Assistant Professor, Int Journal Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. 2008; 1(2): 3–5. Published online 2008 Dec 15.

(2) Moyer CA, Rounds J, Hannum JW. A meta-analysis of massage therapy research. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(1):3–18.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Michael Clarke's Back

Anyone who was watching the cricket yesterday would have seen the incident that led to Michael Clarke leaving the field with severe back pain. For the uninitiated Michael Clarke is the captain of the Australian Cricket team. The last week or so may have been, quite probably, the most traumatic and stressful period of his life so far. Recently there was the tragic injury, while batting, and subsequent death of Australian cricketer Philip Hughes. Phil Hughes happened to be a very close friend of Michael Clarke. A sad event all round and our condolences go to family, friends and the cricketing community at large.

I won't presume through this Blog to know exactly what is happening with Michael Clarke's lower back. I've heard it all from the commentators and journalists - disc degeneration, disc prolapses, sprained sacroiliac joints, pars interarticularis fracture - and the list goes on. No doubt he has a team of specialists giving their two cents on what is wrong and what he can do about it. What interests me is how such an innocuous incident could lead to a flare up of a pre-existing complaint.

The previous week Phil Hughes was felled by a bouncer while batting for NSW. Without going into detail it was a tragic and unfortunate accident that ultimately ended his life. Yesterday, while facing up to the Indian pace attack in the first Test Match of the summer Michael Clarke was travelling along quite well. He has recently altered his batting technique to take pressure off his "niggly" low back and hamstrings and it seemed to be working well. The Indian bowler at the time bowled a bouncer at Michael Clarke (which was a pretty ordinary ball putting the batsman under little pressure at all) to which he flinched to instinctively get out of the way. Wham-Oh! His back went into spasm and he was unable to continue.

Michael Clarke was under pressure - emotionally and physically. He was carrying a "niggly" lower back and hamstring problem. Suddenly a bouncer comes at him at 140km/hr and his brain says "ALERT, ALERT!" There is a reflex tensioning of the body and the messages from the brain to the lower back were greatly exaggerated. Here is a perfect storm for aggravating a pre-existing problem. Stress, anxiety and physical duress can all impact on the DANGER signals to the brain and the way the brain interprets that danger. It is quite likely Michael Clarke has not done any further "damage" to his lower back, and honestly I hope he is not being told how "damaged" his lower back is as it does not directly equate to a persons pain experience one iota.

Michael Clarke is an impressive captain to bravely go out and face that red ball under such stress and I'm sure will bounce back and hopefully be better for it. In fact, I think he just got a century.