Massage Therapy’s Effect on Stress and the Immune System

By Sandy Levy

We doubt that our clients will be surprised to learn that massage therapy relieves stress and enhances the immune system, but it is good that we are beginning to understand the underlying biology.  Mark Hyman Rapaport, M.D., of Emory University, reports that in the healthy people he studied, even one session of Swedish massage reduced levels of stress hormones–in particular, cortisol and arginine vasopressin–an effect that lasted for several days.

There were somewhat different effects depending upon whether the subjects received once or twice-weekly massages, but in both cases the effects were positive.

Dr. Rapaport’s study, which was conducted over a five-week period, also demonstrated “that repeated massage has an additive effect,” and that “once-weekly massage continued to have profound effects on the immune system.”  Building on these results, Dr Rapaport is now conducting another study to learn whether massage therapy might be helpful in reducing the fatigue, often very long-lasting, experienced by breast cancer patients.

We hope that further investigations will include other forms of massage therapy, such as neuromuscular massage, which involves a deeper touch, as well as of related modalities, such as Reiki , Ortho-Bionomy®, and Reflexology.