Can massage actually boost your immune system? By Rakhee Dodhia
Remedial Massage Therapist, Sacred Space Healing
A massage feels great… but can it also have true and positive effects on our immune systems? The good news is, yes, it can!
It is a well-known fact that people who suffer high levels of stress, especially in the long-term, are more prone to illness and injury. When we are stressed our bodies produce stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, which can have a negative effect on our heart rate, weight, blood pressure and sleep. Massage has the opposite effect on the body as it induces a state of relaxation, which counterbalances stress. We are living in a world where the demands placed on us are becoming greater and greater, and while we may not be able to control the amount of stress in our lives, we can certainly do things to help counter it.
In addition to having an impact on our stress levels, massage also has a direct effect on our circulatory system. The circulatory system is responsible for transporting oxygenated blood around the body and filtering and removing waste from the body. Our white blood cells (leukocytes) are housed in the circulatory system and their primary function is to protect us against illness and disease. They are essentially immune cells which means that a healthy circulatory system is an imperative part of a strong immune system. Massage works directly on the circulatory system encouraging blood flow to the heart and aids in the removal of toxins.
Research from the University of Roehampton in London reveals that regular massage not only improves the delivery of white blood cells around the body, but it can actually increase the white blood cell count. This research also found white blood cells were boosted by 70 per cent in the research group that had regular massages. White blood cells are stored in glands that are connected to the skin by nerves and when the body is massaged, these nerves are stimulated, encouraging the glands to release white blood cells into the circulatory system. Certain forms of massage are more targeted to the circulatory system, like lymphatic drainage massage, but any type of massage can help to support and boost the circulatory system.
Further research, conducted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, confirmed that people who received a 45-minute massage had an increased number of lymphocytes after just that one massage. This same study group also demonstrated increased levels of cytokines which play an anti-inflammatory role in the body. Reduced inflammation in the body can help reduce the symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as asthma and cardiovascular disease. This research confirmed that massage can create measurable positive changes in the body’s immune and endocrine responses.
Massage can often help to relieve pain, which can have a direct effect on the immune system. Pain has a significant immunosuppressive effect on the body and massage can counteract this effect and help the immune system to function better.
While massages are often considered to be a luxury or a treat, there is more and more research proving that massage can have significant health benefits and goes way beyond being something that just ‘feels good’.
About the author
Remedial Massage Therapist
Sacred Space Healing
Rakhee is a Remedial Massage Therapist, with a practice in Bilgola, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Of Indian origin, Rakhee, grew up surrounded by the ancient healing world of Ayurveda and has developed a keen interest and practice of the same.