The Effect of Single-Dose Massage Session on Autonomic Activity, Mood, and Affective Responses in Major Depressive Disorder

J Holist Nurs. 2019 Dec;37(4):312-321. doi: 10.1177/0898010119832493. Epub 2019 Feb 27.


Background: Massage therapy (MT) is a holistic procedure that includes hand pressure (HP), therapeutic communication (TC), and attentive care (AC); together, these procedures could decrease symptoms of depression. Purpose: To study the influence of TC and AC during MT. Methods: Within-subject experimental design with counterbalancing order of treatment. Comparison analysis of the effect of a typical Swedish massage session (SM) with a "sham" massage (ShM; without HP) on the heart rate variability (HRV) mood and affective responses of patients with major depressive disorder (N = 11). During the ShM, clay stones were randomly placed on the body, and the patients were informed about the (sham) therapeutic effect of stones. Findings: A main effect of time showed that after intervention, both SM and ShM increased the HRV (high-frequency power; F[1, 10] = 7.58, p = .02) and reduced scores for anxiety (F[1, 10] = 37.57, p < .001), other feelings (F[1, 10] = 22.64, p = .001), and physical sedation (F[1, 10] = 10.72, p = .008). The SM was associated with more positive affective responses than ShM (qualitative analysis). Conclusions: AC and TC included in MT session improved mood and HRV in the absence of HP. Additional effect on affective responses was observed owing to the HP.

Keywords: depression; heart rate variability; top-down neural network; vagal activity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Aged
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage / psychology
  • Massage / standards*
  • Massage / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged