Many massage clients turn to massage therapy to feel relaxed and stress-free. In new research, investigators in Sweden set out to evaluate the effects of massage on the stress responses of healthy volunteers.

In this crossover design including 22 (mean age 28.2) healthy volunteers (11 male and 11 female), cardiac autonomic tone was measured by heart rate and heart rate variability. Stress hormone levels (cortisol) were followed in saliva, according to an abstract published on The investigators also measured blood glucose and serum insulin. Extracellular levels of glucose, lactate, pyruvate and glycerol were followed using the microdialysis technique. Massage was performed on hands and feet for 80 minutes. During control, participants rested in the same setting.

Data were collected before, during, and after TM and at rest, the abstract noted. Saliva cortisol, serum glucose, and serum insulin were collected before, immediately following, and one hour after intervention or control, respectively.

After five minutes in the massage group, heart rate decreased significantly, indicating a reduced stress response. Total heart rate variability and all heart rate variability components decreased during intervention. Saliva cortisol and insulin levels decreased significantly after intervention, while serum glucose levels remained stable, according to the press release. A similar, though less prominent, pattern was seen during the control situation. Only minor changes were observed in extracellular levels of glucose (a decrease) and lactate (an increase). No significant alterations were observed in glycerol or pyruvate levels throughout the study. There were no significant differences between groups in extracellular concentrations of analyzed substances.

“In healthy volunteers, massage decreased sympathetic nervous activity, leading to decreased overall autonomic activity where parasympathetic nervous activity also decreased, thereby maintaining the autonomic balance,” the investigators noted.

“Physiological responses to touch massage in healthy volunteers” was conduced by investigators at the Department of Nursing, Umeå University, in Sweden, and appeared in the journal Autonomic Neuroscience, published by Elsevier.

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