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Original Research

Treatment Effects of Massage Therapy in Depressed People: A Meta-Analysis

Wen-Hsuan Hou, MD, MSc; Pai-Tsung Chiang, MD, MPH;       Tun-Yen Hsu, MD; Su-Ying Chiu, BA; and Yung-Chieh Yen, MD, MSc, PhD

Published: March 23, 2010

Article Abstract

Objective: To systematically investigate the treatment effects of massage therapy in depressed people by incorporating data from recent studies.

Data Sources: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of massage therapy in depressed people was conducted using published studies from PubMed, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and CINAHL electronic database from inception until July 2008. The terms used for the search were derived from medical subheading term (MeSH) massage combined with MeSH depression. Hand searching was also checked for bibliographies of relevant articles. Retrieval articles were constrained to RCTs/clinical trials and human subjects. No language restrictions were imposed.

Study Selection: We included 17 studies containing 786 persons from 246 retrieved references. Trials with other intervention, combined therapy, and massage on infants or pregnant women were excluded.

Data Extraction: Two reviewers independently performed initial screen and assessed quality indicators by Jadad scale. Data were extracted on publication year, participant characteristics, and outcomes by another single reviewer.

Data Synthesis: All trials showed positive effect of massage therapy on depressed people. Seventeen RCTs were of moderate quality, with a mean quality score of 6.4 (SD‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.85). The pooled standardized mean difference in fixed- and random-effects models were 0.76 (95% CI, 0.61-0.91) and 0.73 (95% CI, 0.52-0.93), respectively. Both indicated significant effectiveness in the treatment group compared with the control group. The variance between these studies revealed possible heterogeneity (τ2‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.06, Cochran χ216‘ ‰=‘ ‰25.77, P‘ ‰=‘ ‰.06).

Conclusions: Massage therapy is significantly associated with alleviated depressive symptoms. However, standardized protocols of massage therapy, various depression rating scales, and target populations in further studies are suggested.

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(7):894-901

Submitted: January 4, 2009; accepted February 19, 2009.

Online ahead of print: March 23, 2010 (doi:10.4088/JCP.09r05009blu).

Corresponding author: Yung-Chieh Yen, MD, MSc, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, E-Da Hospital and College of Medicine, I-Shou University, 1 Yi-Da Rd, Jiau-Shu Tsuen, Yan-Chau Shiang, Kaohsiung County, Taiwan 824 (

Volume: 71

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