Ancient cultures have used massage as an alternative medicine for centuries. 
Fast forward to today and reports claim that massage can flush out toxins, increase blood flow, and boost immunity.
But does it really work? 
This article explores the health effects of massage and the immune response. 
Keep reading to find out more… 

What Is the Immune System?

The immune system is the body’s defense mechanism against disease, bacteria, viruses, and parasites. 
Furthermore, it’s made up of organs, proteins, and cells that are crucial for your survival. 
Thus, you should think of it as a fortress that protects the body from invaders. 

There are Two Main Types of Immunity

1. Innate Immunity

Innate immunity is the baseline defense that you’re born with.
As soon as you enter this world, you’re exposed to infections, bacteria, and disease.   
Thankfully, your innate immunity provides an initial defense against infection. 
It consists of the skin and mucous membranes in the throat and gut.

2. Acquired Immunity

Acquired immunity develops over the course of a lifetime. 
As you’re exposed to diseases, the body builds up antibodies and your immunity grows stronger. 
Ultimately, these antibodies remember the infection if it returns, and is better prepared to fight it.
Take chickenpox, for example, after you’ve had it once, the antibodies recognize and destroy it the next time it arrives! 

Massage and the Immune Response 

Unfortunately, not everyone’s immune system works as perfectly as it should, leaving the door open for bacteria and infections. 
There are many claims about massage and immunity, but more research is still needed. 
What we do know is that massage has a host of benefits, including:
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Improves circulation
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Reduces stress hormones
  • Increases joint mobility
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces anxiety and depression

Next, let’s take a closer look at common immune system disorders and how massage might be able to help…  

What Happens When the Immune System Is Overactive? 

First, when the immune system is overactive, it can run amuck and cause a host of health problems.
For example, you may have more allergic reactions.
This can irritate the nose, throat, eyes, ears, skin, and the roof of the mouth. 
Plus, it can lead to several other health issues, including: 
  1. Asthma
  2. Food Allergies
  3. Eczema
  4. Sinusitis
  5. Autoimmune conditions 
More often than not, allergic reactions are triggered by seemingly harmless substances like pollen, dust, or even food. 
Now, let’s take a closer look at common conditions caused by an overactive immune system…

1. Asthma 

Asthma is one of the leading chronic illnesses among children.
Consequently, it happens when the immune system overreacts to an allergen and causes the airways to constrict.
In severe cases, it can be life-threatening. 
Fortunately, recent studies show that massage therapy can have a positive effect on children with asthma. (1)
Researchers found that massage can:
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Improve breathing 
  • Ease coughing and wheezing 
Additionally, massaging the areas involved with breathing encourages the muscles to relax, making it easier to breathe. 

2. Food Allergies

As the world becomes more sanitary, children are exposed to fewer bacteria, and food allergies are more common. 
Unfortunately, a food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakes certain proteins in food for harmful invaders. 
In response, it produces extra antibodies and causes symptoms like:
  • Inflammation
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Itchiness
Massage therapy can relax the muscles of the stomach and reduce the severity of gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloating. (2)

3. Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition where the immune system overreacts to substances inside or outside of the body. 
Thus, this causes the skin to flare up and become rough, dry, and itchy. 
Furthermore, research shows that regular massage can stimulate the oil glands and reduce: (3)
  • Redness
  • Skin thickness
  • Scaling
  • Chafing
  • Itching
With this in mind, massage promotes blood circulation, delivers nutrients to the skin, reduces dryness, and improves skin tone and texture.  

4. Sinusitis

Sinusitis is inflammation of the mucus in the sinuses. 
Generally, massage is thought to help reduce sinusitis symptoms by helping to:
  • Relieve pressure 
  • Increase blood circulation
  • Drain excess mucus 
The sinuses are hollow cavities located at the top of the nose. 
Likewise, they produce a thin layer of mucus that moisturizes and protects you from airborne pathogens, dust, and dirt. 
Ultimately, sinusitis can cause the face to feel tight, stuffy, and congested. 
 
As the body attempts to destroy the pathogens, the extra inflammation can damage the sinus membranes. 

5. Autoimmune Disease 

Autoimmune disease is another example of an overactive immune system.
Incidentally, it occurs when the immune system mistakenly thinks it’s under threat and attacks healthy cells.
In particular, three of the most common autoimmune diseases are: 
  1. Multiple sclerosis
  2. Type 1 diabetes
  3. Rheumatoid arthritis 
Let’s take a closer look!

1. Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis eats away at the protective lining of nerves.
With this in mind, common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include: 
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiffness and weakness
  • Mobility problems
  • Pain
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
Luckily, massage can be a safe way to manage these symptoms.
Massage lubricates the joints, reduces stiffness, and improves mobility. (4)
At the same time, it relaxes the nerves and muscles and helps fight fatigue.

2. Type 1 Diabetes

In Type 1 Diabetes, the immune system mistakes insulin cells for foreign invaders and attacks them.  
Therefore, this can lead to unwanted symptoms like:
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Excess thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination
For the most part, daily life can be a challenge as you regularly monitor your blood glucose, take insulin, and watch what you eat.
If you have diabetes, then you know just how stressful this can be.
Fortunately, massage is a great way to promote relaxation and reduce stress. 
Chiefly, this calms the nervous system and allows your body to rest, reset, and rejuvenate. 

3. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common inflammatory diseases.
Namely, it causes painful swelling in the joints and is more common as you age. 
Luckily, a recent study found that regular massage can reduce pain, increase strength, and improve range of motion. (5)
As a rule, this is because massage increases blood flow and reduces inflammation in the affected area. 
Subsequently, the immune system attacks tissue, joints, and sometimes even internal organs. 
Yikes!
Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be extremely painful and exhausting.

What Happens When You Have an Underactive Immune System? 

When the immune system is underactive, it’s harder to fight bacteria, viruses, and infections.
Hence, people who suffer from an underactive immune system include:
  1. HIV patients
  2. Preterm infants
  3. Leukemia patients
In severe cases, like HIV, an underactive immune system can be life-threatening. 
Let’s take a closer look…

1. HIV Patients

HIV is a virus that attacks the white blood cells and weakens the immune system.
Ultimately, this makes you more vulnerable to all sorts of diseases and infections. 
With HIV, even a minor cold or flu can be a serious health risk. 
In short, common symptoms of HIV include:
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes
Fortunately, massage may be able to boost white blood cells and help the body fight disease.
That is to say, it’s been used to help HIV patients improve their overall health and wellbeing. (6)
2. Preterm Infants 
Babies that are born too early often have underactive immune systems. 
Ultimately, their immune system lacks the antibodies to fight off bacteria and viruses. 
For this reason, they’re usually kept in an incubator to protect them. 
For instance, one study found that massage can reduce stress and enhance growth in preterm infants. (7)
Massage is also thought to…
  • Stimulate their immune system
  • Increase resistance to infection
  • Decrease autoimmune problems 
  • Improve lung function
On the whole, these promising findings show that massage may be an alternative approach to increasing immunity in preterm infants.  

3. Leukemia Patients 

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
In patients with leukemia, the body produces dysfunctional white blood cells that are unable to fight infection. 
 
Symptoms of leukemia include:
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Pain
  • Sleep disorders
Consequently, a recent study found that therapeutic massage can reduce stress and improve the overall health and wellbeing of leukemia patients. (8)

Stress and the Immune System 

Have you ever been so stressed that you became ill?
We’ve all been there. 
Part of the problem is that stress produces corticosteroid hormones that suppress immunity.
Research shows that massage can decrease stress hormones and support mental health.
(9)
By reducing stress, massage helps keep the immunity strong.
Plus, massage can strengthen the immune response by helping to: 
  • Flush out toxins
  • Promote white blood cell activity 
  • Reduce stress levels  
  • Increase blood circulation
If you have any more questions about massage and the immune response or want help finding a masseuse near you, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.