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Physical and Emotional well-being – how are they linked and how can massage help?

One thing I love about massage therapy is that it treats the whole person, mind and body.   It’s a holistic treatment that can be used alongside medical interventions for a whole range of issues that we live with. The mind and body have symbiotic relationships and so treatments which benefit both physical discomfort and pain and mental problems such as anxiety or depression can bring immense value.

How is physical and emotional health linked?

A study by Julius Ohrnberger, Eleonora Fichera and Matt Sutton in 2017 found that a person’s past physical health had impacts on their current emotional health and vice versa. In particular being physically active in the past leads to better mental health, and being socially active in the past leads to better physical health.  This means that looking after ourselves today can help protect our health in the future!

Linton, Steven J. and Bergbom, Sofia (2011) found that people presenting with chronic pain often also suffer from depression.  They concluded that we are likely to catastrophize when in pain, which can lead to depressive thoughts.  Emotional regulation plays an important role in dealing with both physical pain and depression as they are both significant emotional stressors.  They advised a person be treated holistically for both the pain and the low moods rather than separately due to the strong link. 

L Caes, A Orchard, D Christie 2017 did a study on children suffering from paedriatiac chronic conditions and also concluded that care for the mind and the body should be brought together due to the interaction between emotions and physical symptoms.  They also found that psychological distress can undermine the immune system, which intensifies the effects of physical illness. 

How can massage help?

People come for a massage for all kinds of reasons.  The most common one in my clients is to relax and unwind, to take some time just for themselves and be revitalised ready for life again! 

Studies have shown that massage activates a brain area involved in coding of rewarding pleasant stimulation. It decreases anxiety and dampens the stress response by a decreased activation of the sympathetic nervous activity (Lindgren, L. (2012). This is why we find it relaxing and calming, in particular if we are in a high stress fight or flight mode.  To increase the relaxing effects of massage, it is good to schedule in rest time afterwards if possible. Even just an hour afterwards, to go to a café or go home for a nap!  This all extends the feelings of lowered stress and anxiety.


Moyer CA (2008) found that even a single session of massage therapy could significantly reduce state anxiety, which is the momentary feelings of worry, apprehension and tension, in both children and adults.  Multiple sessions significantly reduce trait anxiety, which is the normally stable individual tendency to experience anxiety states, to an impressive degree in adults. So if you find yourself with a general feeling of anxiety all the time, a regular course of massage could be a big help to you.  If you would like to talk through how that might work for you, do call me or write me an email. 

The second most common reason is pain or discomfort related, often due to back, shoulder and neck pain.  Headaches and migraines are also common and a scalp massage can really help with these.  A review on massage for lower back pain found that both Swedish and Thai massage could help with pain relief, flexibility and functionality ( N Sritoomma, W Moyle, M Cooke, S O'Dwyer 2012). Massage warms and loosens up tight muscles and fascia, helping to ease aches and discomfort. This effect is usually short term, which is why regular massages are recommended if you suffer from knots or tightness.

Massage is a complementary therapy, meaning it goes alongside or complements other treatments, and you should always get a medical problem checked out by your GP.  Massage can help boost your mood, strengthen your immune system, relieve pain and anxiety, help better sleep patterns and revitalize tired muscles. It's holistic and wide ranging benefits make it a popular choice for many when managing the stresses of daily life.


Line Caes, Alex Orchard and Deborah Christie "Connecting the Mind–Body Split: Understanding the Relationship between Symptoms and Emotional Well-Being in Chronic Pain and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders" Healthcare 2017, 5(4), 93;

Lindgren, L. (2012)."Emotional and physiological responses to touch massage" (PhD dissertation, Umeå Universitet)

Linton, Steven J. and Bergbom, Sofia. "Understanding the link between depression and pain" Scandinavian Journal of Pain, vol. 2, no. 2, 2011, pp. 47-54.

Moyer CA. "Affective massage therapy". Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2008 Dec 15;1(2):3-5. PMID: 21589715; PMCID: PMC3091449.

Ohrnberger J, Fichera E, Sutton M. "The relationship between physical and mental health: A mediation analysis". Soc Sci Med. 2017 Dec;195:42-49. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.11.008. Epub 2017 Nov 8. PMID: 29132081.

Sritoomma Netchanok, Moyle Wendy, Cooke Marie, O'Dwyer Siobhan "The effectiveness of Swedish massage and traditional Thai massage in treating chronic low back pain: A review of the literature" Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice Journal 2012


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