Background and objective: Among methods of complementary treatment of depression, massage plays an important role, at least in the U.S.A. Although there are some pointers to the antidepressive and anxiolytic action of slow-stroke massage in various randoms studies of patient cohorts, there have been no controlled trials of depressed hospitalized patients.
Patients and methods: 32 depressed patients (24 women, 8 men; average 48 years - coveringthe entire spectrum of affective disorders listed in the ICD but without comorbidity in axis 2) with a minimum BRMS score of 16,7 - were included in the study. The randomized cross-over trial involved three massage sessions at set times (M) and sessions in two control groups (C) (relaxation and perception) lasting for 60 min 2-3 days apart. Under the control conditions there was no touching. The effects of depression-specific variables (e.g. mood, drive, abnormal cognition, as well as typical progress variables of the slow-stroke massage (bodily awareness, general state of health, etc.) were measured by both the patients' own assessment and that of an independent observer.
Results: Under condition of both M and C, comparison of before and after effects, there was not only the primarily postulated mood-enhancing effect, but also some very marked changes in almost all dimension, the mean improvement ratio under M often being stronger than under C. After Bonferroni correction for multiple tests, the statistical significance there remained the stronger effect of M in four dimensions (global tenseness, restlessness, depressed mood, neck/shoulder tension). The intensive effect of M compared with C was confirmed by both female and male patients regarding the answers to various open questions.
Conclusions: Slow-stroke massage is suitable for adjuvant acute treatment of patients with depression. It is very readily accepted also by very ill patients. In relation to the skin as an organ that aids identity, non-hedonic depressed patients are able to recognize the sensory quality of therapeutic touching as a positive stimulus. In view of the latent period of many weeks and the only moderate efficacy of antidepressants, the described complementary method, which does not require physiotherapeutic training, should be more often applied in both a hospital and general practice setting.