S. Baumgart, A. Baumbach-Kraft, J. Lorenz
Brain Sci. 2020, 10, 721; doi:10.3390/brainsci10100721
Massage therapy has long been used as a means of accessing emotions through the skin and nervous system. Previous research has shown that touch in the form of massage can reduce both pain and depression. The effectiveness of massage therapy has been shown to be related to technique, including pressure, speed, direction, and rhythm. These parameters influence C-tactile sensory fibers as well as the release of oxytocin, which is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”.
The objective of this study was to see if touch through massage designed specifically to activate C-tactile fibers could decrease symptoms of depression and pain in women with chronic low back pain.
Who was it?
This study included 66 women aged 18 to 75 years with low back pain lasting at least 6 months.
What was done?
This was a randomized, controlled blinded study. The intervention group received 30-60 minute sessions of psycho-regulatory massage therapy (PRMT) and the control group received 20 minutes of classical massage therapy (CMT). Patients were blinded towards the type of massage they received. PRMT targets the skin and the superficial fascia and is applied with warm oil with the patient lying on both their back and their front. PRMT involves soft to moderate intensities of continuous slow strokes, and activates C-tactile fibers and oxytocin secretion. CMT targets all layers of the tissue, including the periosteum and is applied to the back alone and extends from the sacrum to the neck. All subjects received 10 treatments, with two sessions per week, and were always treated by the same therapist. Outcome measures included depression, pain and disability ratings.
Patients receiving PRMT had significantly decreased depression, pain and disability ratings compared to those receiving CMT. Depressive symptoms were reduced by 55.69% by PRMT compared to only 3.1% by CMT. Researchers hypothesize that the effects of PRMT are due to activation of C-tactile fibers and associated recruitment of the oxytonergic system.
This study shows that touch in the form of PRMT massage is an important mediator of both depression and pain. However, it also shows that all touch is not created equal when it comes to these outcomes. Touch that includes activation of C-tactile fibers activates the release of oxytocin, an important “feel good” hormone. This type of touch specifically targets the skin and superficial fascia and involves longer sessions applied to the whole body using soft to moderate pressure strokes applied in a fluid, uninterrupted motion. Given these findings, PRMT could be considered as a treatment for both depression and pain in people with chronic pain conditions.