Massage lowers anxiety, improves mood and increases range of motion among dance students, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the Touch Research Institute showed that twice-weekly massage lowered the stress hormone cortisol, eased neck, shoulder and back pain, and helped range of motion, including neck extension and shoulder abduction.

Thirty female dance students were randomly assigned to a massage or relaxation therapy group. Both groups otherwise continued the same daily dance and school regime.

Those in the massage group received 30-minute sessions twice weekly for five weeks. The massage was focused on the upper body and consisted of moderate to firm pressure, stroking, stretching and rocking. With a prone dancer, the therapist began the session with firm strokes to stretch and warm the neck, back and shoulders. Next, friction and then squeezing were applied to both sides of the spine and then along the sides of the body.

This was followed with a sequence of up-and-down and side-to-side strokes along the collar bone and scapula. Firm pressure was applied, moving muscles away from vertebral column. Firm gliding motions were made down the neck, shoulder and upper back, finishing at the bottom of the scapula.

Continuing with the dancer lying on her side, massage was applied with firm pressure on the muscles along the rib cage, releasing tension before continuing. The chest muscles were then lifted, squeezed and stretched. The arms were circled up by the head and behind the back and down again while applying gentle pressure to the chest and side. The lateral neck muscles were then pressed. Lastly, the arm was circled in reverse, using its own weight to stretch the middle back and chest muscles.

In the relaxation group, dancers listened via earphones to instructions on a series of guided muscle relaxation exercises while lying on a mat. Sessions lasted 30 minutes and consisted of tensing and relaxing muscles, starting with the feet and moving up the body, ending at the face. These sessions also occurred twice weekly for five weeks.

To assess the effects of the massage and relaxation sessions, researchers used five measurements: a State Anxiety Inventory (a questionnaire that assesses anxiety levels), a Profile of Mood States questionnaire; pre- and post-session pain scales to measure perception of pain in the neck, shoulders and back; pre- and post session saliva samples to measure cortisol levels; and measurements of range of motion, including neck extension and shoulder abduction.

Results showed that both groups had less anxiety, better mood, and less pain in the neck, shoulder and back. Only the massage group experienced a decrease in cortisol and an improvement in range of motion, including neck extension and shoulder abduction.

“Perhaps massage therapy stretched the dancers more than relaxation therapy, thus leading to the improved range of motion for the massage therapy group,” the study authors wrote.

The authors stated that further study should be devoted to the effects of massage therapy for preventing and treating dance injuries.

Source: Touch Research Institute. Originally reported in the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 1999, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 108-112.