THE REFERENCED STUDY: Donoyama, N., Ohkoshi, N. Effects of Traditional Japanese Massage Therapy on Gene Expression: Preliminary Study. J Alt Comp Med 2011;17:553-555


  • Some studies have shown elevations in secretory immunoglobulin A, and in the number and activity of natural killer cells following massage, suggesting that massage has the effect of enhancing immune function.
  • To elucidate the mechanism underlying the changes in immune function following massage, this study focused specifically on changes in gene expression.
  • In this preliminary study, two subjects were studied. Blood samples were drawn from each subject prior to massage, then a 40 minute invervention was performed (Japanese massage or rest), and finally blood samples were again taken post-intervention.
  • For further control, both participants also had blood drawn before and after a rest session only, within one week of the experimental trial.
  • To assess changes in gene expression following massage, RNA was extracted from the blood samples, and analyzed using the microarray technique.
  • Results (from the abstract): The gene expression count in the total of 41,000 genes was 1256 genes for Participant A and 1778 for Participant B after traditional Japanese massage, and was 157 and 82 after the control, respectively. The significant gene ontology terms selected by both Participants A and B after massage were “immune response” and “immune system,” whereas no gene ontology terms were selected by them in the control.
  • The authors conclude that traditional Japanese massage therapy does seem to enhance the expression of genes that are associated with immune function. This is a preliminary study online, and larger studies may be conducted.

Massage is one of the most popular complementary medical therapies in the world, and its effects are being studied with increasing frequency in Western countries. To that point, last month alone, over 30 million internet users searched for ‘massage’, which may indicates significant public demand for massage. One of the most exciting roles for massage in health care is its positive effect on the function of the immune system.