alive logo

Massage Therapy for Mental Wellness

Knead out stress


Massage Therapy for Mental Wellness

We know that massage therapy is of great benefit to sport injuries and muscle soreness. But it is also an effective way to improve your mental health.

Massage therapy is a popular treatment for the relief of sports injuries, strains, and muscle soreness. But its benefits are more than just physical: it is also an effective way to alleviate depression and anxiety—and improve sleep quality.

Although life stresses are unavoidable, we can counter negative feelings and insomnia with the positive benefits that massage therapy offers.

Why massage therapy?

Massage has been practised for centuries. In ancient India massage therapists kneaded patients with herbs and oils to relieve tiredness, increase energy, and improve overall health. In fifth-century Greece Hippocrates was quoted as saying, “The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing.” And it’s no secret why massage is still popular today—it feels wonderful.

For overall mental wellness

According to Heidi Ezzat, a registered massage therapist (RMT) practising in Pitt Meadows, BC, “Massage therapy is an excellent tool in treating anxiety, depression, and insomnia because it helps your body to relax, which in turn helps you to de-stress.”

She explains that massage therapy is effective in treating these disorders because “the state of calm [achieved] allows one to have a better chance of using coping skills that have been acquired in other therapies such as counselling.”

According to Health Canada, 11 percent of men and 16 percent of women will experience severe depression over the course of their lives. Studies show, however, that massage therapy can be an effective tool for dealing with depression.

In a study published in Support Care Cancer (2010), breast cancer patients who received two 30-minute massages weekly for five weeks reported significant reductions in depression and anxious depression compared to those who received no massage therapy.

In addition, a meta-analysis of 17 studies conducted by Taiwanese researchers found massage therapy was strongly associated with relieving depressive symptoms.

Health Canada reports that of all mental disorders, anxiety conditions top the list. They estimate that 10 percent of Canadians suffer anxiety in some form. But anxiety can be reduced by the positive effects of massage.

Turkish researchers measured burn patients’ anxiety levels before and after massage therapy sessions. Over the course of a five-week period participants showed a significant reduction of symptoms, including itching, pain, and anxiety from the first treatment to the last.

Poor quality sleep
Statistics Canada reports that 3.3 million Canadians (13.4 percent of Canadians over the age of 15) suffer from insomnia. Fortunately, massage has also been shown to improve sleep quality.

Researchers reported the positive effects therapeutic massage had on breast cancer patients’ sleep quality (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2009). Participants reported better sleep quality post-massage in addition to reduced anxiety and chemotherapy side effects, and increased quality of life.

Mental wellness versus muscle soreness

Massage therapy can effectively treat a variety of conditions and disorders; however, the therapist will tailor your treatment course of action based on your particular symptoms and concerns.

According to Ezzat, most massage therapy appointments begin the same way: the client fills out a case history form and an assessment is conducted by the therapist. Based on the information collected, the therapist and patient work out a plan to address the patient’s treatment goals.

However, when treating a patient with a mental health issue, Ezzat says “the environment in the treatment room is especially important, such as temperature, music, and lighting.” She also encourages patients to be still and quiet for part of the treatment so that patients can “tune in to their bodies, breathe deeply, and begin to let go and relax.”

Treatment team

Although massage therapy has been shown to help effectively treat depression and other mental health issues, Ezzat suggests that those with severe problems “should be managed and treated primarily [in] the patient’s family doctor and/or naturopathic doctor’s recommendations.”

She explains that there are many tools that a patient suffering from a mental health problem can make use of, and massage therapy is one of those tools. However, sometimes several tools are needed. Ezzat says, “I treat many patients who report benefits from receiving counselling and massage therapy at the same time.”

How often should you go?

The frequency depends on the patient’s specific treatment goals. However, Ezzat recommends, “When someone is starting massage therapy, it is best if they come for several sessions, and according to their condition and schedules that could be once a week or twice a week.”

She reports that most people experience improvements within the first three massage therapy sessions, but long-standing, chronic conditions may take longer. Once patients feel a significant improvement, Ezzat recommends they continue treatment once a month, or more frequently, if they desire.”

Finding a massage therapist

Although RMTs receive similar training across the country, therapists have their own styles and preferred areas of practice. Below are some tips to help you find the right massage therapist for you.

Word of mouth
Speak with someone who’s had appointments with a specific therapist to find out how difficult it is to get in, what approach they favour (light pressure versus deep tissue massage), and much more.

Massage therapy associations
Most provinces have their own massage therapy associations, which can often be found online. Check the websites for RMT listings in your province.

Try a few out
The first therapist you go to may not be the right fit—that’s okay. You may have to try out a few before you find someone who suits your needs. Alternatively, you may prefer to make appointments according to who is available.



Taking Care of the Body’s Supercomputer

Taking Care of the Body’s Supercomputer

Suzanne MethotSuzanne Methot