Massage can reduce anxiety, but no better than a cheaper approach - simply relaxing while listening to soft, soothing music.
A new study shows that patients, on average, had half the symptoms of anxiety three months after getting a series of 10 hour-long massages. But researchers were surprised to find that massages didn't reduce anxiety anymore than lying down and listening to enjoyable music.
"We were surprised to find that the benefits of massage were no greater than those of the same number of sessions of ... listening to relaxing music," Karen J. Sherman, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute, said in a news release from the institute. "This suggests that the benefits of massage may be due to a generalized relaxation response."
The study is the first to examine the effectiveness of massage as a treatment for patients with generalized anxiety disorder.
The researchers randomly assigned 68 patients with anxiety to one of three treatments. Some received 10 one-hour massages as music played, while others breathed deeply while lying down and listening to music. Patients in a third group had their arms and legs wrapped with heating pads and warm towels as they listened to music.
The groups didn't show any difference in their level of relief after three months.
"Treatment in a relaxing room is much less expensive than the other treatments [massage or thermotherapy], so it might be the most cost-effective option for people with generalized anxiety disorder who want to try a relaxation-oriented complementary medicine therapy," Sherman said.
The findings were published recently in the journal Depression and Anxiety. - (HealthDay, March 2010)