In this post we’re going to take a look at how massage therapy can benefit our immune system in order to make us better equipped to fight off illness. To understand how massage can play a crucial role strengthening our immunity, we’ll first talk about what our immune system actually is, does, or is supposed to do.
The Immune System
The immune system is a bodily defense system consisting of many biological structures and processes that protects us against and fights off disease. A healthy functioning immune system detects a broad range of pathogens (anything that can produce disease), from viruses to parasitic worms, and — if it does — starts off “the battle” to get rid of those.
The body first tries to protect against pathogens by trying to keep them outside the body (by use of our skin, nose hair, coughing, sneezing, and so on), but when pathogens still manage to enter inside the body, a very complicated interconnected system sets off to fight them. This includes a cooperation of white blood cells, T-cells, antibodies, kidneys, liver, the lymphatic system, our blood circulatory system, “remembering,” pathogen pattern recognition, vitamins, hormones, to just name a few actors in the theater.
A Weak Immune System
What is called a “weak” or “weakened” immune system can have a number of causes, such as a lack of vitamins, excessive alcohol use, genetic causes, lack of T-cells, lack of sleep, insufficient or malnutrition, lack of detecting capacity, stress, and an already overworked or overloaded system, to name some of the issues that can contribute to a failing defense system.
Another thing is that aged or older people experience a reduction in adequate immune response to infections. Although it is still unknown why exactly this is, evidence seems to point at so-called micro-nutrient malnutrition.
In contrast, very young children, say infants or babies, can be extra vulnerable also as their bodies still develop and need to get their immune system matured. In any case, it takes about three months for a newborn to get its immune system response up-to-speed initially. Breastfeeding, vaccination, diet and supplements are widely considered to play an important role in supporting and maturing the baby’s immune system.
Please keep in mind that a healthy and strong immune system includes many, many things such as already mentioned above, like enough sleep, enough vitamins, minimizing stress, genetic make-up, not smoking, having a diet high in fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, and a range of other interrelated factors.
Exercise, Massage and Other Bodywork
Regular massage treatments, exercise and other bodywork is considered one of the keys to healthy living and an optimal functioning immune system. It not only improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, and helps control body weight, but it contributes more directly by promoting good internal circulation to allow the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job.
In that sense, exercise, massage and other bodywork are crucial: you can eat well, have enough sleep or little stress, but if our “disease warriors” don’t reach the “battlefield” due to inadequate blood and lymph circulation, our immune system may fail.
Massage, for instance, can improve better sleep, relaxation and stress-reduction, but perhaps more important, it can support our immune system by loosening up dense, tensed, contracted or knotted muscle tissue by which it helps giving our nervous and circulatory system the space to receive and send signals and efficiently transport all materials needed in our fight against disease that entered the body.
What we need to realize though, is that there’s no “miracle solution.” It’s more like a cocktail: a healthy, optimally working immune system comprises of an incredible number of factors. What our body has, or doesn’t have, the things we do or don’t do, our medical history, lifestyle and environment, for instance, all heavily influence its efficiency.