Stress and Anxiety Research

Mayo Clinic Studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate that it is an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage may also be helpful for: Anxiety. …

Massage is no longer available only through luxury spas and upscale health clubs. Today, massage therapy is offered in businesses, clinics, hospitals and even airports. If you’ve never tried massage, learn about its possible health benefits and what to expect during a massage therapy session.

Position Statement

It is the position of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) that massage therapy can be effective for stress relief and the symptoms of anxiety.

Stress Background Information

Stress is a prevalent component in today’s fast-paced world which can negatively impact on an individual’s health and well-being. Massage therapy has been shown to be a means by which stress can be reduced significantly on physical and psychological levels. While massage therapists know from experience that massage reduces stress, there is considerable research that validates our experience.

In a study on the effect of trigger point therapy1, there was a significant decrease in heart rate, systolic blood pressure8, and diastolic blood pressure8. Measures of oxygen consumption, blood pressure, and salivary cortisol levels were all lower after a 10 to 15 minute chair massage in controlled studies2, 3, 4. Changes in psychological states have been measured by physiological responses1, 3, the Perceived Stress Scale5, the POMS Depression Scale4,6, and the Anxiety State Scale4.

In the attached studies, all subjects in the massage group showed significant changes in emotional states and stress levels.

What is massage?

 Massage is a general term for pressing, rubbing and manipulating your skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Massage may range from light stroking to deep pressure. There are many different types of massage, including these common types:
  • Swedish massage. This is a gentle form of massage that uses long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration and tapping to help relax and energize you.
  • Deep massage. This massage technique uses slower, more-forceful strokes to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, commonly to help with muscle damage from injuries.
  • Sports massage. This is similar to Swedish massage, but it’s geared toward people involved in sport activities to help prevent or treat injuries.
  • Trigger point massage. This massage focuses on areas of tight muscle fibers that can form in your muscles after injuries or overuse.

Benefits of massage

 Massage is generally considered part of complementary and alternative medicine. It’s increasingly being offered along with standard treatment for a wide range of medical conditions and situations.

Studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate that it is an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension.

What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Massage (NIH)

A lot of the scientific research on massage therapy is preliminary or conflicting, but much of the evidence points toward beneficial effects on pain and other symptoms associated with a number of different conditions. Much of the evidence suggests that these effects are short term and that people need to keep getting massages for the benefits to continue.

Researchers have studied the effects of massage for many conditions. Some that they have studied more extensively are the following

  • Anxiety
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia related to stress
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Temporomandibular joint pain

Beyond the benefits for specific conditions or diseases, some people enjoy massage because it often produces feelings of caring, comfort and connection.

Despite its benefits, massage isn’t meant as a replacement for regular medical care. Let your doctor know you’re trying massage and be sure to follow any standard treatment plans you have.

Risks of massage

 Most people can benefit from massage. However, massage may not be appropriate if you have:
  • Bleeding disorders or take blood-thinning medication
  • Burns or healing wounds
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Fractures
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Severe thrombocytopenia

Discuss the pros and cons of massage with your doctor, especially if you are pregnant or you have cancer or unexplained pain.

Some forms of massage can leave you feeling a bit sore the next day. But massage shouldn’t ordinarily be painful or uncomfortable. If any part of your massage doesn’t feel right or is painful, speak up right away. Most serious problems come from too much pressure during massage.

Anxiety Background Information

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 40 million adult Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.1  Anxiety and its disorders shape the quality of life and the health of those  individuals affected.2

Research indicates massage can:

Reduce anxiety:

  • in psychiatric patients3
  • in those with chronic pain4
  • for cancer patients5,6,7,8,22,30,32
  • for patients undergoing bone marrow transplants7
  • in children with illnesses8,9
  • in nurses10,39 
  • associated with lower back pain11,12,13
  • in those with headaches15,19,25
  • in patients awaiting invasive cardiovascular procedures18
  • in healthy adults 21
  • in patients with generalized anxiety disorder20
  • in patients under local anesthesia17,23
  • in stroke patients24
  • in the elderly24,31
  • in children and adolescent psychiatric patients27
  • in those at the end of life29
  • in adults with hand pain33
  • in patients with fibromyalgia34
  • in patients withdrawing from psychoactive drugs35
  • in burned adolescents36
  • in patients with congestive heart failure38
  • in women in labor40

increase a sense of calm/reduce anxiety after surgery 14, 17, 37
reduce anxiety pre-surgery23
reduce trait anxiety with a course of treatment providing benefits similar to psychotherapy16
reduce the psychological and physiological anxiety levels in patients having cataract surgery17
increase neurotransmitters associated with lowering anxiety28
decrease hormones associated with increasing anxiety28

Anxiety disorders create a downward spiral by causing, and being made worse by, sleep disturbances, muscle tension and pain. Massage therapy has been proven to improve sleep quality and quantity as well as reduce muscle tension and pain and, therefore, has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety, like depression, can be a debilitating condition that is little understood by those close to us. We all experience anxiety in life, but for those with anxiety disorders the anxious feelings never go away and may continue to get worse over time. This constant anxiety eventually begins to interfere with work, school, relationships and even our ability to perform basic activities of daily living.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety, or more specifically Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), affects about 18.1% of the adult population and is 60% more likely to impact women than men. Anxiety is pervasive and affects more than mood. Research has demonstrated that anxiety disorders affect the cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems, interrupt sleep and cause muscle and body pain.

Symptoms of Anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety can be vague and are often confused with other conditions like depression and fibromyalgia.

Signs of anxiety include:

  • Being restless and on edge
  • Fatigue for no reason
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritability and unexplained feelings of annoyance
  • Unexplained muscle tension and pain
  • Sleep disturbances that include problems falling and staying asleep

Treatment for Anxiety

Treatment for anxiety usually includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication and stress management training. CBT involves psychotherapy that is geared toward helping those with anxiety. It usually involves cognitive therapy which identifies and challenges negative thought patterns, while exposure therapy may focus on confronting fears and engaging in activities that cause unnecessary anxiety. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or beta blockers may be prescribed for anxiety. The benefits and side effects of each medication option should be discussed with a physician, along with lifestyle, costs, treatment schedules and alternative therapies.

Stress Management

Stress management training includes learning relaxation techniques and self-care activities that can mitigate stress and anxiety. These can include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi. The act of receiving massage therapy can be categorized as a self-care activity.

Massage Therapy Helps Control Anxiety

Massage therapy is excellent in managing anxiety because it has been proven to address two of the most significant symptoms of anxiety: massage therapy reduces sleep disturbances and insomnia, and reduces pain from muscle tension.

Massage Therapy Improves Sleep

Sleep is a vital function. During sleep both the body and mind repair and regenerate. Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on our mental functions and emotional state, as anyone who has lost a night of sleep well knows! Sleep disturbances have significant adverse effects on the immune system, the nervous system and ability to concentrate as well as our overall energy levels.

Sleep is a critical function and not sleeping results in mood swings, the inability to function and difficulty in the ability to concentrate. The areas in the brain that control emotions, decision-making and social interactions all require sleep to repair and regenerate. When we do not get enough sleep, or do not sleep deep enough for long enough, we begin to lose our ability to think straight and begin to feel anxiety and depression.

Massage therapy has been shown to improve sleep, and therefore reduce the overall symptoms of anxiety. Massage therapy reduces overall stress, and has been proven to improve sleep in children, in cancer patients and in those who suffer from fibromyalgia. In studies, massage therapy has demonstrated to significantly improve the ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep in those who suffer from a variety of conditions – including anxiety.

By improving sleep, many other symptoms begin to show improvement:

  • concentration improves
  • fatigue lessens
  • pain is reduced
  • the emotional state improves (this is critical for those who suffer from anxiety)

Massage Therapy Reduces Pain

Massage therapy has also been proven in reducing pain, and is especially useful in reducing muscle tension and pain. Swedish massage, or long gliding strokes, offers greater stress and pain reduction and improved quality and quantity of sleep – while deep tissue massage techniques, including ischemic compression, do more to reduce pain and muscle tension by releasing tension and trigger points. Massage therapy acts to increase circulation, flushing out lactic acid and bringing in fresh oxygen rich blood. Deep tissue techniques may also include friction to break up adhesions and stretching to lengthen muscle fibers and tissue, restoring range of motion.

Study of Massage Therapy in Acute Care Setting

In a study on the use of massage therapy in an acute care setting, qualitative data demonstrated improvements in all areas, including: overall pain levels, emotional well-being, relaxation and the ability to sleep. The study showed significant reduction in pain levels, improved relaxation and sleep, improvement in emotional state, and improved recovery and healing.

Massage therapy has also demonstrated significant benefits in post-exercise recovery and in preventing delayed onset soreness post exercise. These same benefits seem to transfer to those who experience muscle tension and soreness resulting from constant tension brought on by emotional upset, as massage therapy increases muscle relaxation in those suffering from stress, depression and anxiety conditions.

By reducing pain from muscle tension and improving the quality and quantity of sleep, massage therapy can have significant impact on the reduction of signs and symptoms of anxiety. When we achieve better sleep our bodies and minds can repair and regenerate, and when we reduce pain from muscle tension we experience an overall sense of relief, calm and relaxation.



Further Reading

Massage Therapy Helps Manage Symptoms of Anxiety

Therapeutic Massage for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Can massage relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress?

Massage Away Depression and Anxiety

Effectiveness of Therapeutic Massage for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial

How Does Massage Therapy Reduce Stress?

Massage Therapy for Stress Relief and Much More


Massage and Reiki used to reduce stress and anxiety: Randomized Clinical Trial



So, Stop Stressing and Start Living Healthy and GET WEEKLY MASSAGE !



*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. These statements are not expressions of legal opinion relative to scope of practice, medical diagnosis or medical advice, nor do they represent an endorsement of any product, company or specific massage therapy technique, modality or approach. All trademarks, registered trademarks, brand names, registered brand names, logos, and company logos referenced in this post are the property of their owners.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

7 − six =