Friday, October 22, 2010

Benefits of Clinical Massage Therapy May Run Deep

CAMAppropriately applied clinical massage therapy may do far more than soothe achy muscles, according to new research. In fact, positive effects appear at the cellular level, mustering the body’s defences against stress and inflammation.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, CA, recruited 53 healthy adults (ages 18-45) and randomly assigned 29 of them to a 45-minute session of deep-tissue Swedish massage and the other 24 to a session of light-touch massage as a control group [Rapaport et al. 2010]. Blood samples taken from each subject immediately before and up to an hour after massage demonstrated that a single session of Swedish massage therapy produced measurable and beneficial biologic effects.

Writing in the September 2010 edition of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine the researchers reported that subjects receiving Swedish massage experienced significant decreases in levels of the stress hormone cortisol and arginine-vasopressin, a hormone that can boost cortisol levels. They also had increases in a number of lymphocyte types, white blood cells that are part of the immune system, and decreases in selective cytokines involved in inflammation. Consequently, the authors conclude that their findings may suggest benefits of massage therapy for managing painful inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

COMMENTARY: The implications of this small study — sponsored by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) — for pain management are not entirely clear, since none of the subjects had pain complaints, and effects may be dependent on technique. There are more than 80 different massage modalities and the Swedish technique used in this study involves 5 styles of long, flowing strokes. Prior research has shown Swedish massage to be helpful in reducing pain and joint stiffness related to musculoskeletal disorders and in improving circulation but therapist training and skill may play important roles. A “feel-good” massage at a “spa” is probably not comparable with specialized techniques applied by a well-qualified clinical massage therapist and individualized to patient needs.

The study authors note that massage therapy is a multi–billion dollar industry in the United States, with 8.7% of all adults receiving at least one massage within the past year. An annual report from the American Massage Therapy Association (in Massage Magazine October 12, 2010) noted that more than half (54%) of massages are for pain relief. During the past year 15% of Americans got a massage to reduce or manage pain and 7% used massage to relieve muscle soreness or stiffness. Most Americans (86%) agree that massage can benefit health and wellness, including pain relief.

REFERENCE: Rapaport MH, Schettler P, Bresee C. A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals. J Alt Compl Med. 2010(Sep), online ahead of print [abstract here].