People have been practicing massage for over 5,000 years.

  • In ancient India, at around 3,000 BCE, a form of massage was conceived, as noted in the Ayurveda. It stressed five different healing categories, based on the five senses, to heal and promote health; one was touch therapy.
  • Ancient Egyptians first documented massage therapy. Their tombs are rife with depictions of people kneading each others’ muscles. Civilizations both of the East and West wrote of their power in healing, reducing pain, and reducing stress, both physical and emotional.
  • Chinese healers wrote of the benefits of massage, as was found, in 2,700 BCE. It was created out of a fusion of practices in the martial arts, yoga, Taoists, and Buddhists. Massage was meant to restore healthy energy levels throughout the bodily systems.
  • Significantly later, at around 1,000 BCE, Japanese Buddhists studying in China brought back with them a form of massage, during which pressure points around the body are stimulated by the practitioner’s hands. this gave birth to Shiatsu.
  • 250 or so years later, in 750 BCE, massage broke onto the Western scene. Greek athletes would get massages to reduce stress, and keep their bodies primed for competition. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek who studied medicine and medicinal practices (doctors today must take his oath to first “do no harm” to a patient), advocated “friction” and rubbing as part of healing; he considered massage to be one of six aspects to restore health.
  • In the first century BCE, the famous and highly esteemed Roman physician, Galen, started giving massages per the recommendation of Hippocrates. He soon believed it necessary to maintain health. Soon enough after, massage would spread from the wealthy to the commoner, via public baths.
  • It wasn’t until The Enlightenment, at around 1600 CE, that massage gained significant notice again the West. And despite physicians finding evidence for the healing power of the massage, it wasn’t really until the 19th century CE that it was again noticed on a large scale, after a Swedish physician included it in his healing method.
  • In fact, massage was used by shell-shocked individuals during WWI. But then it took a hit, as many thought it reserved for the wealthy, not to mention its heavy association with the sex trade.
  • It wasn’t until several decades ago, that massage gained legitimacy as an effective, respectable, complementary wellness practice. And yet, the technique still draws heavily from that of the ancients.

Most of us have an idea of what a massage is: muscles are kneaded with the hands, in order to relax them. Some people seem to have a knack for it, regardless of training. Some of us have seen infographics in magazines, such as the one below, exhorting people to get massage to help treat a number, and range, of maladies.

I’ve had the privilege of a few massages by a student practitioner, who, ironically enough, went to school for massage after studying another subject at Princeton University. The first, was the day after I’d taken too much of a stimulant. I was extra-tense. I chose to have some sacrocranial aspects included in the service. I didn’t know what to expect.

The masseuse led me into a room in which I took off my shoes and hung up my coat. Then I was led into a large, open area where other people were being guided by their respective practitioners. I don’t remember much, but what stood out was the significant, full-bodied connection that seemed to gently manifest as I lay there, progressively trusting this person with my sensitivities, handing my being over, unguarded.

In terms of craniosacral aspects, the masseuse put her hands on either side of my head, and pushed gently with her fingers at different points. By the end of the experience, a significant amount of my agitation and paranoia had receded into a sea of lucidity. It was as if the whole room pulsed with a warm blanket of tranquility, a peaceful energy.

In accredited schools of massage, students learn of the natural science that governs the human body, as well as a more intuitive way of promoting wellness. They are taught how take care of another human being in an extremely tender manner, and in doing so promote such sublime emotions as joy and compassion, such advanced mind states as respect and curiosity. Practitioners encourage clients to discover more of themselves, and in this quest so does the masseuse/masseur!

In the pursuit of becoming a licensed massage professional, students take a variety of courses that heavily bear on emotional and spiritual health. Such classes include…

  • Communication Skills: “…guiding clients through their emotions.”
  • Anatomy and Physiology: “Neurology, Pathology, nutrition, and preventative health maintenance are also covered. Emphasis is given to the physiology of emotional experience and the role of the mind-body connection in chronic tension.”
  • Energy Palpitation and Reflexology:  “…Eastern theories and Eastern approaches to bodywork and discusses the connection between the mind, the body, and the body’s energy systems are discussed. Students are also taught to recognize areas of energetic deficiency and/or excess and how to improve and balance the flow of energy.”

There is additionally, significant and substantial evidence that massages are quite therapeutic for those who battle mental illness.

  • I’ve had cancer: non-Hodgkins, Burkitt Lymphoma, stage two. I was at the tender age of twelve. Physically, my body was continually taxed by necrosis. When I wasn’t in pain, I was tired because of the painkillers. Emotionally, the stress was even worse. Studies involving massage on cancer patients have shown very positive results in these domains. I would expect that, for those with chronic mental illness, massage would produce similarly positive effects.
    • This systematic review and meta-analysis of 18 randomized studies, including almost 1,000 participants, discovered that massages may even promote a positive mood, mostly less anger, and greater energy, among women with breast cancer. (2014)
    • Another experiment determined that, among women, after treatment for breast cancer, massage significantly decreased feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and fatigue, with perceptions of stress also lowering. (2010)
    • In children with cancer, massage additionally reduced pain and anxiety related to intrathecal therapy (injection of drugs directly into the spine or the subarachnoid space of the brain) and bone marrow aspiration (taking a sample of bone marrow), both being methods of treating cancer. (2014)
  • I’ve been around hundreds of mentally ill people for extended lengths of time. I knew, and know, many of them on a personal level. My own experience with mental illness, has also taught me something of the nature of it. Additionally, I have an AS in   I have my own experience as well as the qualified opinions of Dr. Colin Dauria (MD), Dr. Theodore Papperman (Phd), and Dr. John Bezirganian (MD). So, I can honestly state that the symptoms of mental illness overall are largely mediated by too much stress. It furthermore is validated through research that massage has scientifically shown to directly reduce the bodily activity involved in excess stress (distress).
    • As is no doubt taught in the Anatomy and Physiology class, the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis governs stress through several chemicals. One is cortisol, another is arginine-vasopressin. Significant evidence exists that massage (specifically, Swedish Massage Therapy, “which is designed to relieve muscle aches and increase relaxation”) greatly decreases levels of arginine-vasopressin, and significantly decreases levels of cortisol. It furthermore increases levels of lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell – the latter which fight off infection. (2010)
    • One study, headed by six experts in natural science and/or cognitive-behavioral research, evaluated the effects of massage through both physiological and emotional means, to see what affect it might have on people who are excessively self-critical. For all participants, cortisol levels significantly went down. Also, all participants experienced “increased feelings of safeness and relaxation, and decreased feelings of negative affect and avoidance“. The study reiterates how studies have before found that massage can significantly reduce cortisol levels and lower the activity of the HPA axis (discussed above). (2017)
  • Similarly, massage has been revealed in several studies as medically viable against anxiety disorders
    • One 2016 study, performed by several doctors, found that Swedish Massage Therapy, even by itself (monotherapy), could treat generalized anxiety disorder. (GAD)
    • A systematic review and meta-analysis composed of ten randomized experiments involving 888 people, found that massage decreased pain and anxiety alike, after cardiac operations.
  • And, along with depression
  • Along the way have been positive results of massage against physical pain. One study in particular shines through. A subsidiary journal of Nature published a finding that massage decreased physical pain as well as fatigue in those with spinal cord injuries. (2017)
  • Finally, a recent (2016), quite meticulous review of the literature concerning the effects of massage on various disorders, yielded many positive conclusions, in that massage can effectively allay…
    • hypertension, according to a meta-analysis of almost 2,000 patients
      • “massage was more effective than anti-hypertensive drugs in lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure”
    • from 20 well-done studies, pain associated with
      • muscular injury
      • women in labor
        • with an additional significant reduction in anxiety and labor length
      • injury to the foot and ankle
      • arthritic knees
      • arthritic upper limbs
      • pelvic issues
      • carpal tunnel syndrome
      • hand injuries
        • a clear increase in mood was also noted
      • fibromyalgia
        • significant improvement in sleep quality, anxiety, and depression, occurred
      • cardiac surgery
        • less anxiety and greater muscular relaxation noted
    • with debate, effectiveness against pain of
      • the back
        • with noted depression and anxiety reduction, along with improved sleep quality
      • veterans with chronic pain
        • anxiety notably decreased
      • the neck
    • “prenatal depression, preterm infants, full-term infants, autism, skin conditions, pain syndromes including arthritis and fibromyalgia, hypertension, autoimmune conditions including asthma and multiple sclerosis, immune conditions including HIV and breast cancer and aging problems including Parkinson’s and dementia”

As will next be shown, physical pain and the mental anguish of depression and anxiety, are highly, positively, significantly associated with one another. Physical pain, and mental pain, perpetuate each other. The relationship is bidirectional.

It’s no coincidence that the Finger Lakes School of Massage lists massage as effective against both emotional and physical injuries: “anxiety, headaches and fibromyalgia”, that overall, “getting a massage can relieve stress”, and that stress does not discriminate between mind and body.

Pain and Depression: A Neurobiological Perspective of Their Relationship states that “Depression and pain share clinical manifestations, neurobiological pathways, neurotransmitters, hormones, stressors, neurotrophic factors and pro-inflammatory cytokines, which have implications for the development and treatment of both simultaneously. The final common pathway in which chronic pain and depression may be ultimately associated should be when both arise out of a common underlying process.”

Many studies have revealed that, even if no emotional pain is present, antidepressants still have significant utility in the treatment of chronic pain.

The government and pharmaceutical industry recognize that nociceptive pain (from tissue damage), and neuropathic pain (damage to nerves), respond to chemicals used for psychic pain: antidepressants and anxiolytics (anxiety-reducers). This overlap is not just due to off-label usage.

It’s worth it to note here that, largely because massage works with, and only with, the body’s own chemicals, it does not bear the negative side-effect profile of antidepressants. To my knowledge, the only thing that can go wrong is that the massage won’t work, in which case some money and time are lost. By contrast, the side effects of antidepressants can be difficult to handle.

Cymbalta is part of a class of medications called SNRIs, serotonin-noepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. And it’s by far not the only such medication on other market. Others include Effexor (venlafaxine), Elavil (amitriptyline), and Pamelor (nortriptyline), which are routinely prescribed to treat neuropathic pain, and pain arising from fibromyalgia. Savella (milnacipran), not available in the United States, has governmental approval to allay the pains of fibromyalgia, based on substantial clinical evidence.

In all, data available “clearly show” that antidepressants effectively battle nociceptive pain, the kind of pain you get when stubbing a toe, or, more seriously, breaking a bone. And such pain do massages also alleviate!

Antidepressants furthermore have found efficacy in treating the physical pain arising from…

  • tension headaches
  • migraines
  • pelvic and lower back conditions
  • arthritis
  • diabetes
  • shingles
  • facial injuries

Furthermore, anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand. A plethora of antidepressants are FDA-approved to treat anxiety disorders, including…

  • SSRIs
    • Prozac
      • Panic Disorder
      • OCD
    • Zoloft
      • Panic Disorder
      • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
    • Paxil
      • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
      • Panic Disorder
      • Social Anxiety Disorder
      • PTSD
      • OCD
    • Luvox and Luvox CR (controlled release)
      • OCD
    • Lexapro
      • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • SNRI
    • Effexor
      • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
      • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
    • OCD

And yet, many more get prescribed for anxiety disorders…

  • Selective serotonin reputake inhibitors (SSRIs)
    • all can be effective against anxiety disorders
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
    • used for social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and PTSD
      • Nardil (phenelzine)
      • Parnate (tranylcypromine)
      • Marplan (isocarboxid)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
    • used also for panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD
      • Adapin (doxepin)
      • Anafranil (clomiprimine)
        • Also used for OCD
      • Pamelor (nortriptyline)
      • Elavil (amitriptyline)
      • Norpramin (desipramine)
      • Surmontil (trimipramine)
      • Tofranil (imipramine )
      • Vivactil (protriptyline)
      • Ludiomil (maprotiline)
  • Atypical antidepressants
    • used for panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, and PTSD
      • Desyrel (trazodone)
      • Remeron (mirtazapine)