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Acute Swedish Massage Monotherapy Successfully Remediates Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Proof-of-Concept, Randomized Controlled Study

J Clin Psychiatry 2016;77(7):e883–e891

Objective: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a prevalent and costly disorder for which many patients may prefer nontraditional treatment. A proof-of-concept study of was conducted to evaluate the acute effects of Swedish massage therapy (SMT) as a monotherapy for the treatment of subjects with GAD.

Methods: A randomized, single-masked, clinical trial was conducted between March 2012 and May 2013 at the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program of Emory University. Forty-seven currently untreated subjects with a DSM-IV diagnosis of GAD were randomly assigned to twice-weekly SMT versus a light touch control condition for 6 weeks. The primary outcome measure was reduction in Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS) scores after 6 weeks of treatment for SMT versus light touch, as determined by mixed model repeated-measures analysis of 40 evaluable subjects.

Results: Mean HARS baseline scores were 20.05 (SD = 3.34) for SMT and 19.58 (SD = 4.90) for light touch. At week 6, the difference in mean (standard error of the mean [SEM]) HARS score reduction was 3.26 points (SMT: 11.67 [1.09]; light touch: 8.41 [1.01]; t106 = 2.19; P = .030; effect size = 0.69). Treatment group differences were significant (P < .05) starting at the end of week 3.

Conclusion: This first monotherapy trial suggests that a complementary and alternative manual therapy, SMT, is an effective acute treatment for GAD.

Trial Registration: identifier: NCT01337713