Massage therapy may improve the overall outcome of premature infants by effecting daily weight gain and increasing the number of natural killer cells.

The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of massage therapy on the immune system of preterm infants, according to an abstract published on

The primary hypothesis was that massage therapy compared with sham therapy (control) would enhance the immune system of stable premature infants by increasing the proportion of their natural killer (NK) cell numbers.

This was a randomized placebo-controlled trial of massage therapy versus sham therapy (control), conducted among stable premature infants in the NICU, the abstract stated.

“Study intervention was provided five days per week until hospital discharge for a maximum of four weeks.

Immunologic evaluations (absolute NK cells, T and B cells, T cell subsets, and NK cytotoxicity), weight, number of infections, and length of hospital stay were also evaluated,” stated the abstract.

“The study enrolled 120 infants (58 massage; 62 control). At the end of the study, absolute NK cells were not different between the 2 groups; however, NK cytotoxicity was higher in the massage group, particularly among those who received ?5 consecutive days of study intervention compared with control.”

Infants in the massage group were heavier at end of study and had greater daily weight gain compared with those in the control group; other immunologic parameters, number of infections, and length of stay were not different between the two groups.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.