How Massage Strengthens Your Immune System
When you think of ways to boost immunity, your first thoughts might be to pound some vitamin C and avoid being coughed on. Yes, please do both of those for your immunity, of course. Actually, you don’t even need to pound the vitamin C, necessarily. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, meaning your body will only use as much of it as it needs and any excess will simply go to waste.
I digress. Do you want to know an immunity booster that isn’t a water-soluble vitamin? You clicked this article, so I’m sure you do. Therapeutic massage is your answer!
Now, what is it about therapeutic massage that makes it so beneficial for your immunity? You’ve likely heard someone say “massage flushes toxins from the body”. But how does massage flush the toxins out? What does that even mean?
Therapeutic Touch and The Immune System
Antigens, also known as toxins, are foreign substances that have no business hanging around in your body. Viruses, bacteria, chemicals, and allergens are all examples of antigens, and it should go without saying that your immune system has a vendetta against all of them.
Here’s where therapeutic touch comes into the picture. You have nerves in your skin that connect to glands where t-cells, a special type of white blood cell, are stored. The very act of mindful skin-on-skin contact stimulates these nerves, a surge of t-cells releases into your bloodstream. These special lymphocytes circulate throughout the body until they encounter an antigen. Once they’ve spotted the infected cell, they destroy it. As you see, t-cells play a very important role in your immunity! They deal with those foreign particles before they can start any trouble, and therapeutic touch signals them to get on the job.
Let’s talk a little bit about lymphatic drainage. You have anywhere between 500 and 700 lymph nodes in your body. That’s a lot of nodes! You have a good lot of those nodes around your neck, armpits, and groin, and there is a very high concentration of t-cells in those very many lymph nodes. (Though note that your bone marrow, spleen, and tonsils are also packed with t-cells!) Anyway, lymphatic drainage: a form of massage that promotes the movement of lymph into the lymph nodes. When you have waste products in your lymph, you’ll want those toxins flushed about before you become sick or grow even sicker. For this reason, massage therapists guide their massage strokes in the direction of your heart. Whether they’re performing an actual lymphatic drainage massage or not, your therapist should always be pushing lymph towards your lymph nodes. Once the foreign particles are sent to the lymph nodes, the lymphocytes will attack the sickness-causing toxins and neutralize the lymph.
The healing power of touch has no time for threats to your immune system!
Emotional Stress and the Immune System
One of the most common reasons for seeking out therapeutic massage is to combat stress. And stress is one of the most common reasons for sickness.
Stress throws off your hormones. It suppresses the production of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Even worse, it releases cortisol. In short bursts, this stress hormone can boost the immune system, as one of its main goals is to reduce inflammation. But when chronically elevated, cortisol can impair its anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system. Your immune system’s ability to fight antigens is impaired, leaving you at risk for infection and illness.
The relaxing nature of massage sends a message to your brain to release the feel-good hormones and reduce the stress hormones. Additionally, serotonin plays an important role in sleep. The secretion of melatonin, the sleep chemical, is stimulated by the release of serotonin. Poor sleep has been shown to inhibit the production of those lymphocytes we mentioned earlier; the t-cells. Restful sleep keeps your t-cells functioning the way they should, strengthening your immunity and speeding up recovery time if you do get sick.
Don’t let stress and sleep deprivation get in the way of your body’s immune response.
Acupressure Points and The Immune System
Acupressure points are scattered all over your body, and some of them are linked to your immune response. You have them under your collarbone, near your elbow, and on your lower leg. These spots are associated with respiratory issues as well as fatigue and can be addressed either on your own or with the help of a massage therapist.
Watch the video below, starting at the 26-second mark, to see how these points can be palpated. And if you’re interested, be sure to ask your massage therapist if acupressure can be incorporated into your treatment.
Lineaments and The Immune System
We just discussed how therapeutic touch, by itself, prompts the main parts of the immune system to step into action. The application of lineaments, such as essential oils, can add a little extra benefit when it comes to strengthening immunity. It’s common knowledge that certain oils promote feelings of relaxation, and relaxation is associated with the production of serotonin and all that other stuff that keeps the immune system happy. But did you know that some oils come with antiviral, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties? Your body’s natural defense system is always open to antiviral, antimicrobial, and antibacterial lineaments in your next massage! Unless your skin and nose are sensitive to the potentness, that is.
There are very many oils that boost immunity, relieve stress, and balance hormones. Lavender and citrus oils are commonly used for these purposes, but there are some other ones too!
Now Go Book a Massage!
Let your immune system know how appreciated it is!
Author, Licensed Massage Therapist
Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.
Bogle, Gib, and P. Rod Dunbar. “T Cell Responses in Lymph Nodes.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews. Systems Biology and Medicine, vol. 2, no. 1, 1 Jan. 2010, pp. 107–116, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20836014/, 10.1002/wsbm.47. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.
Kumar, Brahma V., et al. “Human T Cell Development, Localization, and Function throughout Life.” Immunity, vol. 48, no. 2, 20 Feb. 2018, pp. 202–213, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5826622/, 10.1016/j.immuni.2018.01.007.
Mehta, Piyush, et al. “Contemporary Acupressure Therapy: Adroit Cure for Painless Recovery of Therapeutic Ailments.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, vol. 7, no. 2, Apr. 2017, pp. 251–263, 10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.06.004.
Peterfalvi, Agnes, et al. “Much More than a Pleasant Scent: A Review on Essential Oils Supporting the Immune System.” Molecules, vol. 24, no. 24, 11 Dec. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6943609/, 10.3390/molecules24244530.
Canva by AndreyPopov