The Effects of Swedish Massage Therapy on Hormones

Massage is used for many health purposes, but little is known about how it works on a biological level.

A recent study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the effects of one session of Swedish massage therapy—a form of massage using long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping—on the body’s hormonal response and immune function. Funded in part by NCCAM, researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, randomly assigned 53 healthy adults to receive one session of either Swedish massage or light touch (in which the therapist used only a light touch with the back of the hand). Both interventions lasted 45 minutes and were performed by a licensed massage therapist. Blood samples taken before and after the sessions were used to determine blood levels of certain hormones and circulating lymphocytes (white blood cells). The researchers found that participants who received Swedish massage had a significant decrease in the hormone arginine-vasopressin (which plays a role in regulating blood pressure and water retention) compared with those who were treated with light touch. No significant differences between the two groups were found for the stress hormone cortisol or in circulating lymphocytes. Significant decreases in proteins called cytokines (interleukin 4 and interleukin 10), but not others (interleukin 1 beta, interleukin 2, interleukin 5, and tumor necrosis factor alpha), were found for the massage group compared with the light touch group. These preliminary data led the researchers to conclude that a single session of Swedish massage produces measurable biological effects and may have an effect on the immune system. However, more research is needed to determine the specific mechanisms and pathways behind these changes.

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5 guestions to ask you massage therapist

In order to confirm your prospective massage therapist’s qualifications and ensure that your massage therapy will benefit your health needs, consider asking him or her the following questions:

1. Are you licensed to practice massage in this state?

The state of Hawaii regulates massage therapy profession. Depending on the state, this regulation comes in the form of a license, registration or certification. Also, some local governments may have some form of regulation.

2. Are you a member of any Massage or Business Associations?

Professional massage therapists demonstrate their competency through being part of associations relevant to their profession or business.  It demonstrates commitment and good business sense as well as a certain transparency to the community about who they are and what they do.

3. Where did you receive your massage therapy training and did you graduate from a program accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation?

To ensure that your therapist has had proper training,  the AMTA recommends you find a graduate of an accredited program.  This makes sure the massage schools they attended offers rigorous training and possess qualified faculty and proper equipment.

4. How many hours of initial training did you have?

AMTA suggests that your massage therapist has completed at least 500 hours of training, which is also the standard for most states that regulate the massage therapy industry.

5. Are you trained in any specific massage modalities?

The various types of massage are termed massage modalities. Each massage and bodywork modality requires specialized training. While some massage therapists use just one or two types of massage, most employ a variety of techniques in their practice.  Finding a therapist who is experienced in the modality you need, will ensure that you get more from your sessions.