Scientists at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle said the feeling of relaxation people experience during a massage could be a product of the soothing music played during the session, rather than the treatment itself. Massages come at a price, whereas deep breathing and listening to soft music can be arranged in the comfort of one’s home and is therefore soft on the pockets of patients suffering from anxiety.
The study recruited 68 patients suffering from anxiety, split them into groups and gave them 10 sessions of one of the three forms of alternative therapy. Two control groups were asked to breathe deep in a dimly lit room with soft music and the third test group was offered massage specifically designed to enhance the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls muscle contraction, and relieve symptoms of anxiety including knotted muscles.
The study findings, published in the journal of Depression and Anxiety, showed that all three of the groups had decreased symptoms by about 40 per cent by the end of the 12-week treatment period and by about 50 per cent three months later. Along with a dip in anxiety levels, patients reported fewer symptoms of depression and general disability.
Karen Sherman, a senior researcher at the Seattle-based health co-operative, said: “We were surprised to find that the benefits of massage were no greater than those of the same number of sessions of ‘thermotherapy’ or listening to relaxing music. This suggests that the benefits of massage may be due to a generalised relaxation response. Treatment in a relaxing room is much less expensive than the other treatments like massage or thermotherapy, so it might be the most cost-effective option for people with generalised anxiety disorder who want to try a relaxation-oriented complementary medicine therapy.”