Let me first state, I’ve never had one done. And, my ex- was a prime user of them- as are about 10% of all Americans. What am I talking about? The multi-million dollar massage industry. (No, NOT that kind! Darn, you need to stay focused!) The issue is whether or not there are any physiological changes that result from a single massage session.
Enter Dr. Rapaport (and Schettler, Bresee) from the Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences department of the Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. With funding from a division of NIH (the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine), their research found that a single session of massage caused biological changes. They found 53 volunteers, ranging in age from 18 to 45; of them 29 were assigned to 45 minutes of deep-tissue (Swedish) massage; 24 were provided light massage. They were also fitted with intravenous catheters so measurements of cortisol, oxytocin, ACTH, and arginine-vasopressin (AVP) hormones, as well as certain lymphocytes and interleukins could be performed pre- and post- therapy.
The results will be published soon in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. (An advance copy is available here.) Surprisingly (to me, at least), the results demonstrated marked changes in the hormone, lymphocyte, and interleukin levels.
The Swedish massage subjects had decreased cortisol and AVP levels, as well as interleukin concentrations. (AVP is thought to promote aggressive behavior; cortisol is a stress hormone.) However, the subject’s lymphocyte levels increased (when the white blood cell levels increase, it means the immune system was augmented). Those subjects provided light massage therapy had elevated oxytocin (contentment hormone), when compared to the Swedish massage subjects, and larger decreases in ACTH levels (which eventually leads to cortisol release).
These biological indications mean that there may be some utility for massage in the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.