By Sydney Mallatratt, Summit Massage
Yes, you read that correctly. Massage for your immune health! When most people think of massage therapy, the first things they tend to think of are: relaxation, hot stones, and relieving stress in their back or neck. While those are all fantastic components, massage has so many other profound effects on your health that most people have never even heard of – and it has been used for thousands of years. The oldest known forms of massage therapy are seen in Ancient Egyptian tombs in 2330 BC. The medical benefits of massage have been known since ancient times and science is beginning to prove it. Massage therapy today is now commonly being used to combat a variety of conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Arthritis/Chronic pain syndromes
- Sleep disorders
- Range of motion issues
- Digestive diseases
One of my favorites is how massage helps you build and sustain a healthy immune system. To understand how this works, we must understand, in two different ways, a key component of how your immune system can be impaired: pain.
Pain has an extremely immunosuppressive effect on the other. The CDC estimates 50 million adults in the United States lives with chronic pain – and that number is only rising. Chronic pain is classified as having persistent pain, lasting longer than 3 months, and being unexplainable to another condition. Recent studies at McGill University have shown that chronic pain can change how your cells, specifically T cells, and immune system function. T cells are a central and vital component of your immune system. Some variations of these cells can directly kill virus-infected cells and cancer. These cells are also vital for alerting your immune system to threats of infection. Compromising these cells can severely disrupt the entire immune response and weaken your immune system.
Chronic pain tends to lead to stress, which often becomes long-term. Chronic stress, in turn, often contributes to worsening health conditions: heart disease, high blood pressure, mental disorders, and even stroke. You may have heard of the hormone cortisol before. This is a hormone that is released when you are feeling stressed. When stress becomes chronic, so do the levels of cortisol in the body. Elevated cortisol is proven to weaken the immune response by preventing many of the critical immune cells from functioning optimally. Chronically elevated cortisol levels are also shown to increase sugar in the blood and increase risk of other chronic diseases. It is the beginning of a dangerous cycle of poor health, more pain, and weakened immune function.
Now that we have outlined what factors can contribute to a suppressed immune system, you are probably wondering where massage comes in. Clinical research is starting to highlight that regular massage can naturally increase your immune cells.
A recent study was done on pregnant women receiving biweekly aromatherapy massage treatments. The study was split into two groups: one group receiving the massage, the other not. At the conclusion of the study, the research showed the group who received aromatherapy massage has significantly less cortisol (stress hormone) and improved immune system markers.
There is no question that massage plays a huge role in stress reduction. When stress is reduced, the stress hormone cortisol is also reduced. Once cortisol levels are diminished, serotonin, one of your body’s natural pain fighting and happiness hormones, are increased. All these hormones’ changes are key to boosting your immune health and keeping it strong.
A study performed in 2010 wanted to discover if these massage-induced, immune-boosting changes could happen after just one session. After one 45-minute Swedish massage session, measurable biological changes happened in the immune system. It was reported that the number of circulating lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, was increased in those who received the massage therapy session.
Many similar studies done over the years continue to show similar results, even in immunocompromised individuals with HIV or those undergoing cancer treatment. The Touch Research Institute, a division of the University of Miami, School of Medicine, conducted a study on 29 HIV positive individuals. After one month of daily massages, the group receiving massage therapy was shown to have a significant decreased cortisol and anxiety and a significant increase in immune cells. This study indicates that even individuals whose immune health is weakened; regular massage therapy can provide additional immune boosting support.
While regular massage therapy is being proven to be an excellent method for maintaining immune health, it is never indicated to receive massage therapy while you are acutely ill with an infection. In fact, massage can intensify the illness and make you feel groggier. This is because when you are already unwell, your body is working hard to fight off the infection. Massage can have a very stimulating effect on the body and should only be performed when you are feeling well and able to rest and relax. If you are feeling unwell, it is always best to reschedule your massage session once you are recovered and well again.
Keeping ourselves healthy and strong is vital now more than ever. Getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy balanced diet, and practicing healthy hygiene also play a vital role in protecting our immune system. The role of massage therapy and immune system health is still being widely researched, understood, and improved. However, studies so far are promising, as the massage field continues to make strides in the medical community.
Summit Massage, LLC is a massage therapy studio located on Penn Ave in West Reading, PA. Sydney Mallatratt, owner and massage therapist, has been trained to work with clients with a variety of injuries or chronic conditions. She has experience working with clients with auto accident cases, chronic pain conditions, arthritis, post-surgical pain, and those that just need stress reduction! Sydney values a mind, body, spirit approach to healing and wellness. Learning new techniques, engaging in the community, and promoting holistic wellness take priority at Summit Massage, LLC. To learn more about the studio, visit www.summitmassagepa.com or follow the studio on Facebook!