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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019