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Massage and Medicine

By: Barbara Kohn
Posted: June 18, 2008, from the July 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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“Pain is another key focus for massage therapy research,” says Diana Thompson, MTF president. “Because we still are scratching the surface of massage and research, there is much room for discovery. There is promise in all of the many studies being done around the world. Some will tell us the role of massage therapy in both the prevention and treatment of mainstream health problems and even substance abuse; some will tell us when massage is safe or not; and some will tell us exactly how massage produces physiological benefits.”

Breast cancer and massage

A perfect example of the importance of further research into massage therapy is evidenced in a recent study conducted by Tiffany Field, PhD, executive director of the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami. The study, funded by Biotone, a massage and spa product supplier, focused on the effects of massage therapy on breast cancer patients. Field concluded that massage therapy increases the number of natural killer cells (NK cells) that are known to destroy cancer cells, bolstering immune function.

Breast cancer patients in the early stages of the disease participated in this study. One group received 20-minute massage therapy twice a week for five weeks; others in a control group received no massage therapy. At the end of the five-week period, blood tests indicated a statistically significant 11% increase of NK cells among massage recipients.

Although dramatic in its implications, the TRI’s breast cancer research represents just one of more than 90 studies it has conducted that have determined the positive effects of massage therapy on physical functions and medical conditions. Other research has shown that massage improves sleep patterns and decreases pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression and stress hormone (cortisol) levels in adults with fibromyalgia1 and decreased diastolic blood pressure, and reduces anxiety and cortisol levels in adults with hypertension.2 It also has been found that glucose levels of diabetic children decreased to the normal range after just one month of receiving massage.3

An increasing acceptance

Dale Healey, DC, dean of the School of Massage Therapy at Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) in Bloomington, Minnesota, believes that there has been a dramatic acceptance of massage therapy as part of patients’ health care treatment.