Research Round-up: Therapeutic massage for HIV / AIDS - More than anecdotal evidence
For more than a decade now research into the role of massage in supporting HIV/AIDS patients has been done.
In an article discussing the benefits of massage, Delaney notes that it is more that merely anecdotal 1. The author refers to studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami and highlights three that are of specific interest to people living with HIV/AIDS:
In 1996 a study involving 29 HIV-positive men indicated that a majority of the individuals receiving massages showed an improvement in immune system function, both in the number of natural killer cells and in the activity of those cells. As a result of this evidence, two more studies into massage and the working of the immune system were done.
The second study was done on nine healthy female medical students in the middle of exam time. “Not only did the students report reduced anxiety, but blood samples taken before and after the massage showed that five had a substantial increase in white blood cell numbers and in the activity of natural killer cells”, writes Delaney.
The third study involved 20 breast cancer patients, divided into two groups. One group watched relaxation tapes and the other received massage therapy three times a week for five weeks. The patients who had received massage therapy showed an 80 percent improvement in immune system function. Of the group who watched the tapes, only 30 percent had any improvement.
That massage can facilitate the improvement of immune system function is clear from these studies but exactly how it happens is the subject of different theories. Some believe that massage works by reducing stress, and thereby alleviating the wear and tear inflicted by stress hormones, in particular, cortisol. According to Delaney, studies indicate that up to 80 percent of illness is stress-induced, “so it stands to reason that if massage therapy can reduce stress, it can also improve the body’s defense system against illness”. 2
Gnanakkan 3 refers to more research on the efficacy of massage on HIV/AIDS patients:
- Scafidi & Field studied HIV-positive babies who were massaged by their mothers and who gained significant weight in comparison to the control group babies. They also presented with lower stress behaviours and so did the mothers.
- Seventy three HIV-positive men were studied by Antoni, et al., to determine how cognitive-behavioral stress management (including massage therapy) affected anxiety, T-cytotoxic/suppressor cells and 24-hour urinary norepinephrine output. The results showed significant reduction in anxiety, anger, total mood disturbance and perceived stress, and lowered norepinephrine output. Even after six to 12 months, there was a significant increase in T-cytotoxic/suppressor (CD4+CD8+) lymphocytes.
1. Delaney M.T. Jr. (1999). A Healing Touch: Massage Therapy and HIV/AIDS, thebody.com, http://www.thebody.com
3. Gnanakkan, J. (2005). The Effects of Therapeutic Massage on HIV and AIDS Patients. In Massage Today, September 2005.
- Diego MA, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Shaw K, Friedman L, Ironson G. HIV adolescents show improved immune function following massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 2001;106:35-45.
- Gnanakkan, Jacob, The Effects of Therapeutic Massage on HIV and AIDS Patients, Massage Today, September 2005.
- Shor-Posner G., et al., Impact of a Massage Therapy Clinical Trial on Immune Status in Young Dominican Children Infected with HIV-1, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July/August 2006.
- Scafidi F, Field T. Massage therapy improves behavior in neonates born to HIV-positive mothers. J Pediatr Psychol, 1996;21:889-897.
- Ironson G, Field T, Scafidi F, Kumar M, Patarca R, Price A, Goncalves A, Hashimoto M, Kumar A, Burman I, Tetenman C, Fletcher MA. Massage therapy is associated with enhancement of the immune systems cytotoxic capacity. International Journal of Neuroscience, 1996;84:205-218.