Massage Beneficially Impacts Immune Response.

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There are very few people that do not like to have a massage, and those of us that do – me, me, me, now have an extra justification for throwing yourself onto the nearest couch and shouting “fetch the oil, I’m ready for basting”.

Published in the Sept Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2010 a paper suggests that a single session of Swedish Massage Therapy produces measurable biologic effects.[1] The intervention tested was 45 minutes of Swedish Massage Therapy versus a light touch control condition, using highly specified and identical protocols.

Swedish Massage Has Immune Benefits

If replicated, these findings may have implications for managing inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. In the study, 29 subjects received 45 minutes of Swedish massage and 24 received 45 minutes of light touch massage. Each participant underwent informed consent, a physical and mental evaluation and was deemed to be physically healthy and free of any mental disorder. Massage therapists were trained in how to deliver both Swedish and light touch using specific and identical protocols.

Among the study’s results:

  • People in the Swedish massage group experienced significant changes in lymphocytes (lymphocyte numbers and percentages) white blood cells that play a large role in defending the body from disease.
  • Swedish massage caused a large decrease (effect size -.74) in Arginine Vasopressin (AVP) a hormone believed to play a role in aggressive behaviour and linked to helping cause increases in the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Swedish massage caused a decrease in levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Swedish massage caused a notable decrease in most cytokines produced by stimulated white blood cells.

Summary Results

Arginine-vasopressin (AVP) Decreased Large effect
Cortisol Decreased Minor effect
Lymphocytes Increased Moderate effect
Cytokines Decreased Moderate effect


[1] Mark Hyman Rapaport, Pamela Schettler, Catherine Bresee A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic– Pituitary–Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. September 2010, ahead of print. View Abstract

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