Cultures around the world have used various forms of massage for thousands of years for everything from pain relief to simple enjoyment. Today, massage therapists provide services ranging from sports massage to relaxation to physiotherapy. But in addition to physio and other physical benefits, studies suggest that massage can also produce important psychological effects. 

Methods of healing

Scientists and medical professionals have not fully investigated the effect of massage on metal health, so the results that we have are preliminary and incomplete. There are a number of different theories about exactly how massage influences the mental state. Some scientists believe that the pain relief resulting from massage naturally has psychological effects, while others suggest the importance of massage's effect on the nervous system, body chemistry or the ability to enjoy a night's restful sleep. Still others think that the main psychological benefit of massage comes from the interpersonal attention a patient receives from a massage therapist. 

Short-term effects

No matter what the origin, some effects do seem noticeable in the limited scientific research available. These can vary depending on whether the patient receives a single massage or a longer-term course of massage therapy. People who receive just one session of massage tend to exhibit less anxiety afterward. They also experience reduced blood pressure and are less likely to have high heart rates. 

Long-term effects

People who undergo longer courses of massage also experience some mental benefits. The most significant of these are apparent reductions in depression and what psychologists call "train anxiety." Unlike "state anxiety," which is an individual's level of anxiety at any given moment, trait anxiety measures an individual's likeliness to be anxious. In layman's terms, state anxiety measures your anxiety at any given moment, while trait anxiety measures how anxious you are as a person. While single-session massage reduced state anxiety, indicating a calming effect, regular massages actually reduced trait anxiety, indicating that it was helping people be less anxious in general. Individuals who received longer-term massage also reported reduced pain levels not just at the time of the massage but for significant periods afterward. 

We don't know exactly how massage achieves these effects -- any or all of the various possible explanations could be true -- but we do know that, based on the research available, massage seems to help fight depression and anxiety as well as helping to reduce physical aches and pains. The traditional view that massage contributes to mental well-being seems to be receiving some support from the scientific evidence.