Could massage boost your immune system?

Massage is one of the oldest therapies in existence.

While for some it's an occasional indulgence, it's also been claimed that massage can help a whole range of conditions, from back pain and sore muscles, to alleviating the side-effects of some cancer treatments.

But while massage may make us feel good, can it really have an impact on our health?

The experiment

We teamed up with Prof Fulvio D’Acquisto, an immunologist from the University of Roehampton and the Bodyology Massage School .

Fulvio came across research which found that massage boosted the number of white blood cells in patients suffering from HIV, a disease that causes a reduction in a type of white blood cell known as T Lymphocytes.

To see if massage might have the same effect in people without serious immune conditions, we invited 7 volunteers in for a massage.

First we took a blood sample from each of them and analysed it for the number of T Lymphocytes present. This served as a baseline reading.

Next we asked them to lie down and relax for an hour, before taking another blood sample. This was so we could be sure that when we tested their levels after a massage, any changes in T Lymphocyte count were due to the massage itself, not simply the effect of an hour’s relaxation.

Then came an hour’s massage. Immediately after the session, we took a third and final blood test.

The results

Compared to the baseline results, the results from the group after the massage showed a 70 per cent boost in white blood cells. This was also a higher reading than we got from the volunteers simply relaxing.

The immune system is complex, and it’s not simply the case that increasing the white blood cell count in a person who already has healthy levels will improve their health. However T-lymphocytes do perform a wide array of functions in the body involved with growth and repair, which could in part explain why massage has been reported to help with so many conditions.