Anxiety, stress and depression. How can massage help?

We can all suffer from anxiety, stress and or depression from time to time. Stress can be good for you but repeatedly pressing the stress response button can start to negatively effect the body. Finding the cause of your anxiety, stress and or depression is very important. Everybody has different triggers and will require different approaches to manage the effects these conditions have on the body. Our advice is to always be open and willing to try different strategies whether it is meditation, yoga, bootcamp, cold water swimming, running, crafting or under guidance of your doctor cognitive behavioral therapy, counselling or medication. Sometimes we are our worst enemy in that we have an excuse for not trying things like I don’t have time, its just part of my job, I don’t want to let anybody down, its our willpower or lack of. This is not the article to go into this but if you want a really great read about willpower and why we make the choices we do and how to change your approach, Kelly Mcgonigal ‘how to master the new science of self control – maximum willpower’ is a great start.

Below is a table showing just some of the symptoms related to anxiety, stress and depression.

Anxiety StressDepression
Physical symptoms
Feeling irritableGrinding teeth, clenched jawLack of energy
Problems with sleepHeadachesUnexplained aches and pains
Feeling of dread, panic or impending doomIndigestion or acid reflux symptomsChanges in appetite
Racing thoughtsDizziness or general feeling of ‘being out of it’Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
Difficulty concentratingMuscle tension in neck, face or shoulders.Disturbed sleep

The above table is just a very simple example and you can have anxiety, stress and depression seperately but you can have all 3. Sypmtoms can be very similar for all 3 which is why it is always best to speak to a medical professional to work out your cause and triggers and how to manage it the best way for you.

Massage can be effective to treat some symptoms of mild, short term cases by helping with muscle tension, decreasing pain, helping sleep etc. It can also be very useful for severe chronic cases but must be part of a treatment strategy as it will not work on its own.

Massage helps to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and muscle tension by eliciting feelings of calm and deep relaxation. Massage increases localised blood flow which helps the travel of positive hormones like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine to areas of high stress and give a sense of well being. Massage can also reduce feelings of stiffness by increasing tissue elasticity by rising muscle temperature. Very similar effects to exercise.

When booking a massage to help with your stress and anxiety management notify the therapist of why you want the treatment. This way they can create the right environment for you to be able to relax. Asking the therapist to not talk during your treatment is absolutely fine. We are here to help.

Back pain breaking the myths

Back pain is the most common area of pain I treat in the clinic. Everybody at some point will have an episode of back pain and for those unlucky few ongoing recurrent problems.

The approach to back pain has changed a lot and challenges many widespread beliefs about the condition. Here is what I have found out throughout my 10yrs of experience.

1. Back pain is common and normal.

Most back pain is due to strains and sprains and usually resolves within 6 weeks. Only a very small percentage go on to develop long standing disabling problems and many of these may improve with the right help.

2. Scans are rarely needed. You would think that a picture of the spine would explain why you are in pain but it is not that simple. The scans will often show up things that are poorly linked with pain. Many people who have no pain are shown to have bulging discs, degenerated discs, arthritic changes etc. If you are told you have these problems it can lead to further distress and avoidance of activity.

3. Back pain is not caused by something being out of place. Many people may feel better after manipulations/mobilisations but this is mainly down to short term reduction of pain, muscle tone/tension and fear. As therapists we use these techniques to help get you moving better not to realign you.

4. Bed rest is not helpful. This can create stiffness, muscle de-conditioning and fear. Stiffness itself is painful and treatment and exercises will be painful to get movement back again.

5. Increased back pain does not mean more damage.

6. Surgery is rarely needed. Many people who have back surgery still have pain after because they have not taken a multi factoral approach to getting better. No one treatment will work on its own.

7. There is no perfect sitting posture. It is about moving and altering posture instead of maintaining posture that is important. The body will never like being stuck in one position for any length of time.

8. Lifting and bending are safe. Yes it may cause a strain in the back but should never be avoided as it is good strength work for the back and body. And yes there are bad techniques that can lead to injury, just remember you have a pair of legs to help you. Don’t lift silly amounts of weight, be smart. The length of the activity also has an influence break it up into smaller manageable amounts.

9. Avoiding painful activities is not the way forward. Fear of pain can heighten your senses of back pain and increase stress on the back due to an altered movement pattern.

10. Poor sleep, stress, low mood and worry all influence the back.

11. Exercise is good and safe and persistent back pain CAN get better with it.

Long standing back pain has to have a whole body and psychological approach. Manual therapy can help but exercise is very important as well. So is general health, looking after you weight, healthy diet, good sleeping pattern and knowing how to cope with stress. Everyone is different so what works for one person will not work for the next.