Massage therapy is a large and growing industry in the United States. Between July 2017 and July 2018, 19-28 percent of Americans experienced at least 1 massage. What’s the connection between massage and health benefits? Specifically, are there benefits for the immune system for scheduling regular massages? Let’s take a look at some of the data.
Complementary and alternative medicine departments in traditional hospitals are increasingly offering massage. You may even find massage therapy offered in many of the traditional medical departments. It’s not unusual to find massage offered in the oncology and cardiovascular departments. It’s quite popular to experience massage in the maternal medicine specialty, too.
Massage and Immunology Study
Most people report subjectively feeling better after a body massage. Now there’s scientific evidence to back up those good feelings. A report looking at Swedish massage concludes there are measurable immunological benefits.
The report, from 2010, studied healthy adults from age 18-45 who were randomized into 2 groups. The control group received 45 minutes of light touch massage. The other group received 45 minutes of Swedish massage. An indwelling catheter took blood samples at intervals during the massage.
White Blood Cells
Patients in the Swedish massage group showed differences in their white blood cells. They experienced significant changes in the numbers and percentages of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white cell that helps fight infection. Increasing the number of these cells helps the body fight off infection.
The research also showed a decrease in the blood levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. That’s significant because prolonged elevated cortisol hormone suppresses the immune system. Lowering cortisol levels helps return the immune system to baseline. This could help patients with autoimmune disorders or decrease the likelihood of autoimmunity.
The Swedish massage patients in this study had a large decrease in AVP (arginine vasopressin) hormone. AVP is linked to aggressive behavior. Not surprisingly, aggressive behavior results in an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol. Lowering AVP, then, helps the body de-stress and return to baseline. This helps ‘reset’ the immune system back to its baseline, too.
The last result seen in the Swedish massage patients was a decrease in cytokines. Cytokines, chemicals released from stimulated white blood cells, help regulate the immune system. Lower cytokine levels may be helpful in reducing chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.
Why Regular Massages?
Some people seek out massage for specific health conditions. These include pain reduction, sports injuries, and stress relief. Massage is relaxing for both the mind and the body. As we’ve seen, there are proven results to show a reduction in stress hormones when receiving a massage. Many people recognize the wisdom in scheduling regular massages as a way of maintaining their health and well-being. They feel good after a massage and feel they are doing something good for their body and health. Massage should not be viewed as an occasional form of pampering at an expensive spa facility. There are now proven physiological and immunological benefits to receiving massage therapy. Of course we are to take the necessary precautions in receiving massage therapy. For us and others to remain safe
(Optional References) Massage and the immune system report. : https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100908094809.htm (actual article) https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2009.0634