According to the American Massage Therapy Association, research has shown that massage therapy can help improve mood, alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression, and reset circadian rhythms. The result? Improved sleep and more energy.
The Research: A randomized study of 34 women with stage 1 or 2 breast cancer examined how massage therapy impacted depression and anxiety levels. The massage therapy group received a 30-minute massage three times per week for five weeks, which consisted of stroking, squeezing and stretching techniques to the head, arms, legs, feet and back. The control group received no intervention. Study participants were assessed on the first and last day of the study, and assessment included both immediate effects measures of anxiety, depressed mood and vigor, as well as longer term effects on depression, anxiety and hostility, functioning, body image and coping styles. A subset of 27 women also had blood draw to assay immune measures.
The Results. The immediate massage therapy effects included reduced anxiety, depressed mood and anger. Longer term effects included reduced depression and hostility, as well as increased serotonin values, NK cell number and lymphocytes.
Serotonin, a neurotransmitter with functions in various parts of the body, works to regulate mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning.
In another study examining the effect of massage therapy on the adjustment of circadian rhythms in full-term infants, researchers measured the rest-activity cycles of infants before and after 14 days of massage therapy, starting at 10 days old and again at six and eight weeks of age.
Rest-activity cycles were measured by actigraphy, and 6-sulphatoxymelatonin excretion was assessed in urine samples at six and eight weeks of age. The concentration of 6-sulphatoxymelatonin in urine correlates well with the level of melatonin in the blood, and melatonin is what helps control sleep and wake cycles.
At 12 weeks, nocturnal 6-sulphatoxymelatonin excretions were significantly higher in the infants receiving massage therapy than those in the control group, suggesting that massage therapy can enhance coordination of the developing circadian system with environmental cues.