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Massage Therapy and Mental Health
January 11, 2022
man at desk pondering

In the United States, Mental Health Awareness Month happens every year in May. In Canada, “Bell Let’s Talk” Day is upcoming on January 26th where this company will donate 5 cents for every hashtag (#BellLetsTalk) on social media. These initiatives are meant to increase mental health awareness, contribute to its research and remove the stigma of mental health disorders.

In terms of the research evidence, we still have much to learn about how a person’s mental health affects one’s overall wellness and what the best treatments are to address conditions like depression and anxiety. Anecdotally, the effects of the covid pandemic on our mental health has been considerable.  Most of us would agree that wave after wave of this pandemic has produced feelings of fear, uncertainty, anxiety and symptoms of depression. For some of us, these feelings have been transient and completely manageable and minimal. However, for those who already struggle with some pre-existing mental health challenges, the difficulties have been much greater. 

As physiotherapists and massage therapists, our Standards of Practise require us to provide patient-centered care which focuses on the person as a whole. Recognizing that we are not psychologists or psychiatrists, even as we practise within our scope of practise, we manage patients daily whose physical conditions are intertwined with and influenced by their mental health. Just as a person’s medication list has to be considered carefully whenever we plan treatments, we make similar accommodations and adjustments in our treatment plans in light of a person’s mental health. 

Throughout this pandemic, Ty Henry, our Registered Massage Therapist has been very busy. The research evidence suggests that upwards of 40% of people with diagnosed mental health disorders use massage therapy as an adjunct therapy.1 Aside from the basic science evidence on the positive effects of massage on key clinical markers related to mental health (for example, dopamine, serotonin, vasopressin levels), massage appears to offer good short term benefits of feelings of relaxation, reduced anxiety,  feelings of well being and improved sleep.1,2,3  Because there is currently no treatment solutions that offer long term solutions for mental health disorders, short term solutions should not be minimized. In fact, it is the additive effects of multiple short term management techniques that allows patients to cope. 

Some of us run. Some of us meditate. Some of us sit by the fireplace to knit a sweater. Some of us use massage therapy. Collectively, when we combine activities that feed our soul, we can use less prescriptive medications or else, maximize their effectiveness when taken as prescribed. 

Whatever feeds your soul, do more of that (keep it healthy!).  And when you need us, we will do what we can.  So, let’s talk. 

Submitted by Ty Henry and Albert Chan

References:

  1. Rapaport MH, Schettler PJ, Larson ER, Carroll D, Sharenko M, Nettles J, Kinkead B. Massage Therapy for Psychiatric Disorders. Focus (Am Psychiatr Publ). 2018 Jan;16(1):24-31. doi: 10.1176/appi.focus.20170043. Epub 2018 Jan 24. PMID: 31975897; PMCID: PMC6519566.
  2. Rattray, Fiona, and Linda Ludwig. Clinical Massage Therapy. Talus, 2000.
  3. Salvo, Susan. Massage Therapy Principles and Practice. Elsevier, 2016.
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