Twenty minutes of leg massage reduced stress and anxiety and boosted the immune system in cancer patients, according to new research.

Researchers in Japan set out to determine whether leg massage could induce psychosocial relaxation and activate the first line of the host defense system in cancer patients. “Patients with cancer suffer a wide range of physical symptoms coupled with psychological stress … Moreover, cancer chemotherapy induces immunosuppression and consequently causes respiratory infections,” the researchers noted. “Massage therapy has been reported to reduce symptoms in cancer patients via an increase in psychosocial relaxation and to enhance and/or improve immune function.”

Fifteen healthy volunteers rested on a bed for 20 minutes on the first day, and three days later the subjects received a standardized massage of the legs for 20 min with nonaromatic oil. Twenty-nine cancer patients also received the same standardized massage of the legs.

Anxiety and stress were assessed before and just after the rest or the massage. To evaluate oral immune function, salivary chromogranin A (CgA) and secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA) levels were measured.

Stress and anxiety were reduced in both the control and cancer-patient groups; in cancer patients, leg massage “significantly decreased” scores for both stress and anxiety.

“Leg massage may promote psychosocial relaxation and reinforce a first-line host defense with an increase in secretion of antimicrobial peptides,” the researchers noted.

“Leg massage therapy promotes psychological relaxation and reinforces the first-line host defense in cancer patients” was published in the Journal of Anesthesia. (2010 Oct 26.)

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