Autonomic System

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The short-term effects of myofascial trigger point massage therapy on cardiac autonomic tone in healthy subjects.

Delaney JP, Leong KS, Watkins A, Brodie D.

J Adv Nurs. 2002 Feb;37(4):364-71.



To investigate the effects of myofascial trigger-point massage therapy to the head, neck and shoulder areas on cardiac autonomic tone.Background. No studies have reported on the effect of back massage on autonomic tone as measured by heart rate variability. This is especially relevant to the nursing profession, as massage is increasingly available as a therapy complementary to conventional nursing practice.


An experimental study in which subjects were initially placed in age- and sex-matched groups and then randomized to treatment or control by alternate allocation. The study involved 30 healthy subjects (16 female and 14 male, aged 32.47 +/- 1.55 years, mean +/- standard error). A 5-minute cardiac interbeat interval recording, systolic and diastolic blood pressure and subjective self-evaluations of muscle tension and emotional state were taken before and after intervention. Autonomic function was measured using time and frequency domain analysis of heart rate variability.


Following myofascial trigger-point massage therapy there was a significant decrease in heart rate (P < 0.01), systolic blood pressure (P=0.02) and diastolic blood pressure (P < 0.01). Analysis of heart rate variability revealed a significant increase in parasympathetic activity (P < 0.01) following myofascial trigger-point massage therapy. Additionally both muscle tension and emotional state, showed significant improvement (P < 0.01).


In normal healthy subjects myofascial trigger-point massage therapy to the head, neck and shoulder areas is effective in increasing cardiac parasympathetic activity and improving measures of relaxation.

Other studies investigating effects of massage on autonomic nervous system

Key words: Heart rate, heart rate variability, blood pressure, sympathetic activity, parasympathetic activity, cardiac vagal function

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