Women suffering from symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as irritability, headaches, anxiety and weight gain, felt relief from regular massage sessions, according to results from a recent research study.

The study, “Premenstrual symptoms are relieved by massage therapy,” was conducted by the Touch Research Institute in conjunction with the University of Miami Medical School.

Twenty-four women, aged 19 to 45, with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a severe form of PMS) were selected from gynecological practices. The women were randomly assigned to a massage therapy group or a relaxation group. Those in the massage therapy group received twice-weekly, 30-minute massage sessions for five weeks. The sessions started during a premenstrual week to establish a baseline measure.

Sessions began with the woman supine, and included 15 minutes of: kneading the neck; stroking the forehead; pressing down on the tops of the shoulders; stroking on the hands, arms and shoulders; circular stroking on the stomach; stroking of the feet and legs; and kneading of the thighs. The remaining 15 minutes of the session, the woman was prone while the therapist stretched her ankles; compressed her calf muscles; kneaded her thigh muscles; gave gliding strokes to her legs; and massaged her low back, shoulders and neck.

The relaxation group was given progressive muscle relaxation therapy. For 30 minutes twice a week, participants were instructed to tense and relax major muscle groups, starting with the feet and moving up.

Treatment assessments included the following self-rating scales: the Center for Epidemiological Depression Scale (CES-D) to rate depressive symptoms; the Menstrual Distress Questionnaire (MDQ) to rank premenstrual symptoms; the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) to measure anxiety; the Profile of Mood States (POMS) to rate the level of depression; and a visual analog scale (VAS) to rate perceived pain.

At the end of the study, results indicated that the massage therapy group experienced a decrease in anxiety (STAI), a decrease in depression (POMS), a reduction in perceived pain (VAS), and an overall reduction in PMS symptoms including pain and water retention (MDQ).

Researchers wrote that future studies might focus on the effects of a longer-term massage therapy program.

“Overall, the present findings suggest that massage therapy may be an effective long-term aid for pain reduction and water retention, and short-term for decreasing anxiety and improving mood for women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Based on these findings, massage therapy benefits would be expected to generalize to the milder PMS.”

Source: Touch Research Institute. Originally reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, March 2000, Vol. 21, pp. 9-15.

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