One of the less well known benefits of massage is that it helps to strengthen the immune system. Various studies have been done on the effect massage has on different aspects of immune system function. The main ways it appears to help are by:
- Increasing the number of white blood cells
- Improving lymph circulation
- Decreasing stress induced elevated cortisol levels
- Reducing pain (which has an immunosuppressant effect)
Increased number of white blood cells
Image credit: Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014“. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436 available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blausen_0909_WhiteBloodCells.png
Our white blood cells are a major part of our immune system. There are many different types of white blood cells, all with specialised functions. They work together to eliminate any invading organisms in the body, as well as to clean up damaged and potentially harmful cells. Research has found that regular massage increases the number of white blood cells circulating in the body.
Improved lymphatic circulation
We have a network of lymph vessels around our bodies, similar to our network of blood vessels. The lymphatic system has several important functions, including playing a part in immunity. Glands known as lymph nodes are found at various intervals around the lymph system. These glands are a key part of the immune system. They filter harmful organisms out of the lymph fluid and destroy them. The lymph nodes also produce white blood cells and antibodies. Massage stimulates the lymph circulation, flushing fresh lymph around the body.
Very poor lymphatic circulation impedes the process of filtering lymph fluid and can cause fluid retention in tissues (lymphedema). Lymphatic drainage massage can be helpful for lymphedema. This is a gentle massage that aims to encourage lymph fluid filtration in the nodes. However, if there isn’t actually a problem with lymphedema, then a standard massage is more beneficial for immune system function.
Decreased stress levels
It’s well known that massage promotes relaxation (read more about this here). When we’re stressed we produce the hormone cortisol. The purpose of cortisol is to put the body in survival mode – the “fight or flight” response. It should be a temporary response to an immediate danger. As such, in order to conserve energy, it inhibits any body processes that are not essential to short-term survival, such as the immune system. However, stress is often not a short-term state for humans and so many people’s cortisol levels are elevated on a day to day basis, causing many issues including a compromised immune system. Regular massage has been shown to help reduce cortisol levels by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that takes the body into a relaxed state).
Persistent pain can also cause elevated cortisol levels, having the same effect on the immune system as chronic stress. Massage is very effective at relieving muscle pain and regular massage keeps muscles relaxed and healthy, avoiding pain and injury.
Using essential oils to enhance the benefits
Essential oils (aromatherapy oils) offer a range of benefits to mental and physical health. Some oils have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, so can assist the immune system in fighting off pathogens. There are also some that have been found to improve the functioning of the immune system itself. Oils that can be used to assist and/or enhance immune system function include:
- Tea tree
As an additional benefit, lavender and frankincense are also calming and relaxing, so can help to avoid immune suppression due to stress.
If you would like to add immunity boosting essential oils to a massage, the following oil blends are available. Let me know when you book which blend you would like:
- Eucalyptus, peppermint and tea tree – these 3 oils have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties and will assist your immune system in fighting infections
- Lavender, frankincense and ginger – these are oils that enhance the immune system and also have a relaxing effect
- Ginger, lemon & peppermint – a refreshing blend that both assists and enhances immune function
Book a massage to help boost your immunity
Fill out the enquiry form and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can with available appointments, alternatively contact me using any of the contact details below the form:
Phone: 07835 346476
Body Benefits location:
1 Albra Mead