Scientific Research Points to the Health Benefits of Massage

BlogHer Original Post

If you think getting a massage is relaxing but without significant health benefits, you would be wrong. A recent study has found that people who receive a massage have measurable health changes that can be detected in their blood.

Not only does getting a massage feel relaxing, but the benefits can actually increase your body's immune response, and lower the levels of stress hormones in the blood.

For example, a group given Swedish massage experienced significant increases in white blood cells (the cells that play a large role in defending our body from disease). They were also found to have a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, along with a decrease in the hormone that aids in the production of cortisol. These changes were seen after just one massage.

One group in the study received a lighter massage with these results. This is from an article published in the NY Times.

Volunteers who had the light massage experienced greater increases in oxytocin, a hormone associated with contentment, than the Swedish massage group, and bigger decreases in adrenal corticotropin hormone, which stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol ... The lead author, Dr. Mark Hyman Rapaport, chairman of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai, said the findings were “very, very intriguing and very, very exciting — and I’m a skeptic.

Here is a video on this latest study.

From CBC News Health -- Massage Alters Immune Response.

In a small-scale study, the blood of 29 people who received 45-minute Swedish massages was tested five minutes and one minute before the massage began, then one, five, 10, 15, 30 and 60 minutes after the massage, using intravenous catheters.

Swedish massage is a form of massage originally used on gymnasts to relax tired and tense muscles.

The blood of people who received 45 minutes of light touch massage — a much less intense form of massage — was also tested, and saliva samples were taken from both groups.

The massage therapists all adhered to the same massage pattern and were audiotaped for quality control.

From Exam Health - Message Health Benefits Measured In First Study.

The results showed that subjects receiving a massage also had an immune boosting response, along with other health benefits. According to Mark Rapaport, M.D., chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, "People often seek out massage as part of a healthy lifestyle but there hasn't been much physiological proof of the body's heightened immune response following massage until now."

The research was published in The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Health.

With both types of massage, the hormone and endocrine changes could eventually be found to lower the risks for many diseases, but larger studies will need to be done to confirm results of this initial study.

For now, this study makes me happy because I have always believed the best medicine is a combination of traditional and alternative, and once science can back that up, it won't be long before doctors open up to the idea too. Hopefully insurance companies will also begin to cover some of these alternative healing methods, so they are not treatments only available to people who can afford to pay for them out-of-pocket. Time will tell.

What do you think? Do you get massages? Is this study about the health benefits of massage surprising to you? Do you think you are healthier because you regularly get a massage? Would you begin getting massages if they were found to have significant health benefits? Would you like to get regular massages but they are just too costly? Please let me know your thoughts in comments.

Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
Also at Catherine-Morgan.com

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