Immune System

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A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals.

Rapaport MH, Schettler P, Bresee C.

J Altern Complement Med. 2010

 Objectives: Massage therapy is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States with 8.7% of adults receiving at least one massage within the last year; yet, little is known about the physiologic effects of a single session of massage in healthy individuals. The purpose of this study was to determine effects of a single session of Swedish massage on neuroendocrine and immune function. It was hypothesized that Swedish Massage Therapy would increase oxytocin (OT) levels, which would lead to a decrease in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity and enhanced immune function. Design: The study design was a head-to-head, single-session comparison of Swedish Massage Therapy with a light touch control condition. Serial measurements were performed to determine OT, arginine-vasopressin (AVP), adrenal corticotropin hormone (ACTH), cortisol (CORT), circulating phenotypic lymphocytes markers, and mitogen-stimulated cytokine production. Setting: This research was conducted in an outpatient research unit in an academic medical center. Subjects: Medically and psychiatrically healthy adults, 18-45 years old, participated in this study. Intervention: The intervention tested was 45 minutes of Swedish Massage Therapy versus a light touch control condition, using highly specified and identical protocols. Outcome measures: The standardized mean difference was calculated between Swedish Massage Therapy versus light touch on pre- to postintervention change in levels of OT, AVP, ACTH, CORT, lymphocyte markers, and cytokine levels. Results: Compared to light touch, Swedish Massage Therapy caused a large effect size decrease in AVP, and a small effect size decrease in CORT, but these findings were not mediated by OT. Massage increased the number of circulating lymphocytes, CD 25+ lymphocytes, CD 56+ lymphocytes, CD4 + lymphocytes, and CD8+ lymphocytes (effect sizes from 0.14 to 0.43). Mitogen-stimulated levels of interleukin (IL)-1ss, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, IL-13, and IFN-gamma decreased for subjects receiving Swedish Massage Therapy versus light touch (effect sizes from -0.22 to -0.63). Swedish Massage Therapy decreased IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13 levels relative to baseline measures. Conclusions: Preliminary data suggest that a single session of Swedish Massage Therapy produces measurable biologic effects. If replicated, these findings may have implications for managing inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

Other studies investigating effects of massage on Immune System

Keywords: NK cells, CD4+ cells, CD8+ cells, T cells, lymphocytes, CD4/CD8 ratio

Billhult, A., C. Lindholm, et al. (2008). “The effect of massage on cellular immunity, endocrine and psychological factors in women with breast cancer — a randomized controlled clinical trial.” Auton Neurosci 140(1-2): 88-95.

Billhult, A., C. Lindholm, et al. (2009). “The effect of massage on immune function and stress in women with breast cancer–a randomized controlled trial.” Auton Neurosci 150(1-2): 111-115.

Birk, T. J., A. McGrady, et al. (2000). “The effects of massage therapy alone and in combination with other complementary therapies on immune system measures and quality of life in human immunodeficiency virus.” J Altern Complement Med 6(5): 405-414.

Diego, M. A., T. Field, et al. (2001). “HIV adolescents show improved immune function following massage therapy.” Int J Neurosci 106(1-2): 35-45.

Goodfellow, L. M. (2003). “The effects of therapeutic back massage on psychophysiologic variables and immune function in spouses of patients with cancer.” Nurs Res 52(5): 318-328.

Hernandez-Reif, M., T. Field, et al. (2005). “Natural killer cells and lymphocytes increase in women with breast cancer following massage therapy.” Int J Neurosci 115(4): 495-510.

Hernandez-Reif, M., G. Ironson, et al. (2004). “Breast cancer patients have improved immune and neuroendocrine functions following massage therapy.” J Psychosom Res 57(1): 45-52.

Ironson, G., T. Field, et al. (1996). “Massage therapy is associated with enhancement of the immune system’s cytotoxic capacity.” Int J Neurosci 84(1-4): 205-217.

Krohn, M., M. Listing, et al. (2010). “Depression, mood, stress, and Th1/Th2 immune balance in primary breast cancer patients undergoing classical massage therapy.” Support Care Cancer.

Kuriyama, H., S. Watanabe, et al. (2005). “Immunological and Psychological Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2(2): 179-184.


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