The Immune Response to Massage Therapy
by Tara Beresh
Have you ever scheduled a massage, only to reconsider because it seemed a bit frivolous—a luxury to be set aside for more pressing financial obligations? If only you were a little more self-indulgent, or afforded the occasion to be. Wouldn't life be grand?
The truth is, there is more to massage than relaxation, stress reduction or the comfort of physical touch. Massage therapists overtly encourage hydration before and after a massage for reasons overlying formality. Not only does massage promote detoxification (requiring hydration to aid in the flushing of toxins), but studies have long suggested that massage therapy contributes to reinforcing a stronger immune system in a variety of ways.
According to a study published in The Journal of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, massage increases the body's production of various cells that boost immune system response. In the study, 53 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 45 were divided into two groups, one which received traditional Swedish massage, and another which received light-touch massage therapy. Blood was drawn from participants through the duration of massage and again 30 minutes after, measuring levels of hormones and immune system markers. Results given by researchers in Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences revealed that in just one massage, participants experienced changes in lymphocyte numbers and percentages of white blood cells. Both play a large role in defending the body from disease. In addition, massage therapy caused a significant decrease in cytokines produced by stimulated white blood cells (1). Decreased levels of cytokines can reduce the inflammatory symptoms attributed to various autoimmune disorders, according to Dr. Lionel Ivashkiv, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in NY, New York (2).
“Massage is very beneficial in the treatment of toxicity. It helps to relieve symptoms such as headaches, myalgia and fatigue and improves the function of the organ or system affected,” says Dr. Mario-Paul Cassar, principle of the Massage and Bodywork Institute and senior lecturer at the College of Osteopaths (3). By improving circulation, massage increases the supply of nutrients to all tissues, thus strengthening the body for improved immune function.
In a study by Gail Ironson, a medical doctor at the University of Miami School of Medicine, HIV positive men were treated with 45 minute massages five days a week for one month. Results showed an increase in seratonin and an increase in natural killer cells which provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, acting at around 3 days after infection (4). NK cells are considered to be the first line of defense in the immune system, recognizing and attacking harmful cells that would otherwise be missed by other T lymphocyte (immune) cells (5).
The above examples are a few of many that lend to the credibility of massage therapy in warding off disease and illness by assisting the body internally. Massage strengthens the immune system by eliminating toxins, decreasing levels of cytokines, increasing circulation that distributes nutrients throughout the body, and contributing to an increase in cancer-fighting NK cells. So, the next time you want to book an appointment with a local massage therapist, remember that you don't need an excuse to pamper yourself. You can be reassured by knowing that every single massage is an investment in whole-body health, and assists in safeguarding yourself from the plethora of ailments affecting your community.
1. Cedars-Sinai. Adults Demonstrate Modified Immune Response After Receiving Massage. September 2010. Internet on-line. www.cedars-sinai.edu/About-Us
2. LiveScience. Massages Boosts the Immune System. September 2010. Internet on-line. www.livescience.com/34910-massage-benefits-immune-system-100908.html
3. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Massage for Detoxification. July 1999. Internet on-line. www.livescience.com/34910-massage-benefits-immune-system-100908.html.
4. healthy.net. Anthroposophical Medicine: Supporting The Immune System With Massage.
5. Wikipedia. Natural killer cell. Internet on-line. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_killer_cell
Tara Beresh is a graduate of the English Creative Writing BA program at Western Washington University with a minor in Environmental Studies. In 2016 she will enroll at the University of New Mexico to pursue an MA in Anthropology with an emphasis in Public Archaeology.