For two dozen students learning to give professional massages at a bay area school, the dialogue is anything but laid back. At the National Holistic Institute in Emeryville, instructors are going over techniques that some researchers now believe could potentially benefit patients with health issues beyond soreness or muscle injuries.
"Everyone who's had a massage knows they feel fantastic when they get off the table, but this really puts it in medical terms," Tim Veitzer from the National Holistic Institute said.
Veitzer points to a study recently performed at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Southern California. Researchers there examined blood samples taken from patients before and after a 45-minute massage. The latter samples showed biological benefits ranging from an increase in the number of white blood cells, to a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.
The study stopped short of linking those biological changes to improvement in overall health, but supporters believe the results could help validate research into massage therapy.
Dr. Aaron Blackledge runs a primary care clinic in San Francisco and often prescribes massage therapy for patients.
"What traditionally we think of as benefits, you know, increase seratonin, reduce the symphatethic nervous system and activativation of the parasympathetic nervous system, you know, things that will improve sleep and a sense of well-being, reduce pain and this is what this study is looking at, " he said.
The original massage study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. But whether continued research documents biological benefits for massage, clients like Marley Wertheimer believe the stress reduction alone is helping her stay healthy.
"As much as it is enjoyable to do this on my own, just for my own enjoyment, I have to say that the added benefit it is definitely I can't complain," she said.
Researchers at cedar Sinai actually studied two different types of massage. While the lighter treatment produced a felling of well being, only the more rigorous deeper tissue version produced the increase in white blood cells.
Written and produced by Tim Didion