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Massage Therapy for Panic Disorder

How Therapeutic Massage Can Help Ease Anxiety

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Updated February 25, 2013

Photo Copyright Microsoft

Massage therapy can help ease panic and anxiety symptoms.

Photo © Microsoft

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are unconventional types of products and practices that are being used to treat a variety of medical and mental health conditions. Over the past several years, CAM practices have grown in popularity and are often used in combination with more traditional medical practices. Some common CAM practices include acupuncture, yoga, aromatherapy, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Massage therapy is another type of CAM practice that is often used to treat muscle pain, injury, and stiffness. Massage therapy has more recently been used for the treatment of mental and emotional problems, including stress, anxiety, and depression. Also considered a relaxation technique, massage therapy may be able to help reduce tension and elicit feelings of calm and deep relaxation. Additionally, massage may be able to curb feelings of fear and nervousness and assist in managing other panic disorder symptoms.

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy involves manipulating the muscles by kneading, rubbing, pressing, or patting different muscle groups. Massage therapists use their hands and massage oils to work through various groups of muscles. Some massage therapists will also include aromatherapy oils and tranquil music to help create a peaceful and deeply relaxing experience.

There are many different kinds of massage offered by massage therapists. Depending on the style, massages often vary in pressure and muscle group focus. Some of the most common types of massage include:

Swedish Massage: This is the most popular type of massage and is meant to help relax the body and mind. It involves a total body massage where a person lies on massage table while the massage therapist slowly works through different muscle groups. Swedish massage also helps circulate blood flow, relieve mental stress, and reduce muscle pain and tension.

Deep tissue: This kind of massage is similar to Swedish massage. However, the massage therapist uses more pressure and intensity when working through the muscles. Deep tissue massage is aimed at releasing tense and painful muscle knots that are often associated with physical discomfort, stress, and headaches.

Sports Massage: Often used by athletes, sports massage is used to assist in athletic training. This type of massage is focused on preparing muscles for intense training. Additionally, sports massage is used to help the muscles recover after intense performance or injury.

Shiatsu: Frequently referred to as acupressure, Shiatsu is a form of massage that is similar to acupuncture. Shiatsu originated in Japan and means “finger pressure.” Instead of using needles like acupuncture, the practitioner uses their fingers on pressure points. Pushing these points are thought to help release energy and restore balance back to the body and mind.

How Can Massage Therapy Help?

Massage therapy can help the body relax, which in turn can help one let go of anxious and fearful thoughts. Massage can relieve muscle pain and tension, improve circulation, and increase flexibility. As a relaxation technique, massage therapy can work to manage the fight-or-flight response, or stress reaction, that is typically overactive among people with anxiety disorders.

The fight-or-flight reaction is responsible for causing fearful thoughts and reactions that often far outweigh any actual threat in the environment. For example, people with agoraphobia often fear having a panic attack in a large crowd or confined areas where it would feel embarrassing or difficult to escape.

The fight-or-flight reaction typically leads to uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, accelerated heart rate, excessive sweating, and chest pain. Massage therapy can have an opposing effect on the body by eliciting the relaxation response, reducing tension, lowering heart rate, and generally making a person feel calmer.

Getting Started with Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is often offered at many spas, salons, and wellness centers. However, as it continues to become a more mainstream treatment option, massage is now offered at many hospitals and clinics. Some insurance companies may even cover massage therapy services.

It is important to schedule these services with a licensed or certified massage therapist. This ensures that you will get treatment from a qualified practitioner who has followed the standards and requirements for their state licensure. Licensed massage therapists can be found through website directories, including the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and the American Massage Therapy Association.

When meeting with your massage therapist for the first time, make sure to discuss your medical history, including your panic and anxiety symptoms. Let the massage therapist know if you have any areas of discomfort throughout your body. Also discuss what you hope to get out of the massage, such as muscle or stress relief.

Generally, massage therapy only has a few potentially adverse side effects. Many people experience some soreness throughout their body the first few days following a massage. However, you should never feel pain or discomfort during or after a massage. Massage is also contraindicated for certain medical conditions. Always consult your doctor before getting a massage.

Studies have supported the safety and effectiveness of utilizing massage therapy for stress, anxiety, and depression. However, you still need to seek out the assistance of a physician or other types of professionals who treat panic disorder. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing panic attacks and other symptoms of panic disorder.

Your doctor will be able to assist you with conventional treatment options, such as medication and therapy. Massage may be beneficial in helping you managing your condition, but is not a substitute to traditional medical care. Massage therapy may be incorporated into your standard treatment plan to assist you in coping with panic disorder.

Sources:

Collinge, W., Wentworth, R., & Sabo, S. (2005). Integrating Complementary Therapies into Community Mental Health Practice: An Exploration. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, 11(3), 569-574.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Massage Therapy: An Introduction. Accessed November 1, 2012.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine? Accessed November 1, 2012.

Seaward, B. L. “Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Wellbeing, 7th Edition” 2011 Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Sherman, K. J., Ludman, E. J., Cook, A. J., Hawkes, R. J., Roy-Byrne, P. P., Bentley, S., Brooks, M. Z., & Cherkin, D. C. (2010). Effectiveness of Therapeutic Massage for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Depression and Anxiety, 27, 441-450.

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