Massage Therapy

Our rating
 Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

There are many different types of massage. Here we refer to gentle manual rubbing of the body, particularly the back, preferably performed by a trained massage therapist. Most of the scientific research on massage has looked at Swedish massage, which is a popular style found worldwide that involves rubbing, kneading and tapping of the body. A massage session usually lasts between 30 to 60 minutes, and a course of massage treatment would usually consist of 5 or 6 sessions, over successive days or weeks.

How does it work?

Massage is thought to produce chemical and electrical activity changes in the brain and to lower the levels of stress hormones, resulting in an improvement of mood.

Is it effective?

Despite its popularity, there are few good quality scientific studies on massage for the treatment for depression. Some studies have found that massage has short term mood-boosting effects, but its long term effects on clinical depression is unclear. A systematic review of four studies on massage for the treatment of depression concluded that there was not enough evidence to recommend it as a treatment for depression. A larger review which looked at studies where cancer patients had received massage found that massage was not effective at reducing their depression symptoms.

Are there any disadvantages?

A massage session can be expensive, but may be covered by some private health insurance policies. Although massage is usually relaxing and pleasant, some people who have been sexually or physically abused, or who are highly anxious, may have an adverse reaction, especially in the hands of someone who is inexperienced.

Where do you get it?

Massage therapists are listed in the Yellow Pages. Massage may also be provided by some physiotherapists.


Although massage can be a pleasant activity, there is not enough good evidence at this stage to recommend massage as a treatment for depression.

Key references

  • Coelho HF, Boddy K, Ernst E. Massage therapy for the treatment of depression: a systematic review. Int J Clin Pract. 2008 Feb;62(2):325-33.
  • Jorm AF, Christensen H, Griffiths KM, Rodgers B. Effectiveness of complementary and self-help treatments for depression. Medical Journal of Australia. 2002 May 20; 176(10): S84.
  • Shin ES, Seo KH, Lee SH, Jang JE, Jung YM, Kim MJ, et al. Massage with or without aromatherapy for symptom relief in people with cancer. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2016(6).

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019