While it may be enough for most people to know that getting a massage makes them feel better, regardless of what the biological effects are, Dr. Rapaport says that his findings could help advance the use of massage therapy in traditional medicine, which would be good news for people looking for more options to treat their medical complaints. "Based on data that have come out of a number of the surveys, a majority of Americans would rather go to an alternative practitioner than a physician and would prefer to have an alternative to traditional care," he says. The few studies on massage therapy that have been done have focused on specific complaints, such as back pain or anxiety, he says, but his research suggests that the therapy could be beneficial to people suffering from a wider range of immune-system disorders.
A weekly massage is good for body and mind; here's how to benefit:
• Find a certified therapist. The massage recipients in this study received treatment from certified therapists to ensure consistency and high quality. You can find one near you via the websites of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and the American Massage Therapy Association.
• Give yourself a hand (massage). Although full-body massages yielded the profound biological changes seen in this study, other research has found that a simple 5-minute hand massage was able to lower stress levels as well. For instructions, see "How to Single-Handedly Rub Out Stress".
• Feel the love in other ways. Dr. Rapaport notes that massage recipients didn't see significant increases in oxytocin levels, but people in the light-touch group did. And as a result, those people saw larger drops in a hormone that stimulates the production of the stress hormone cortisol. There are lots of other simple ways you can increase your body's oxytocin levels, massage table or no, such as holding hands with your significant other, petting an animal, and listening to comforting music.