UBC study looks at massage therapy effects on night shift workers

Massage Therapy Canada staff
March 23, 2015
By Massage Therapy Canada staff
Two University of British Columbia (UBC) doctors may soon be releasing results of their study on the effects of massage therapy on stress and inflammation caused by individuals working night shifts. This clinical research, funded by a seed grant from the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of British Columbia (RMTBC), commenced in February 2014 and was schedule for completion last February.
With the grant from the RMTBC, Dr. Jean-Paul Collet, associate head of research at the Department of Pediatrics at UBC and senior scientist at the Child and Family Research Institute, and Dr. Mir Sohail Fazeli, a physician and a PhD candidate in experimental medicine at UBC, conducted a pilot trial of healthy hospital staff . At the end of two night shifts participants were randomly exposed to either a 30-minute-long “upper body massage” or a “reading intervention.”

Their autonomic profile was then measured by a device which non-invasively captures electrical signals from the body before and after the massage or reading interventions. Signs of inflammation was also measured in the blood.

By comparing pre-intervention results with those results after reading or massage, Collet and Fazeli intended to compare the outcomes of the two types of intervention and identify results that can be attributed to massage therapy.

According to a press release from the RMTBC, the outcome of this study will be of interest to the nearly 30 per cent of employed Canadians who work night shifts, untraditional hours or inconsistent schedules that have them rotating hours during the evening or night. Some industries have a higher incidence of night shifts due to 24/7 operations.

Protective services employees – such as police officers, firefighters or security guards – have more than a 50 per cent chance of engaging in shift work, according to Statistics Canada. Health-care professionals (doctors, nurses and hospital staff) and service employees often have just under a 50 per cent chance of working shifts.

Night shifts can cause sleep deprivation, which can be disruptive to normal eating and sleeping patterns, wakefulness and cardio-vascular functions, thereby causing uncontrolled stress.

The human being’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) is divided into the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system branches (SNS and PNS) that keep the body in a state of balance. The SNS prepares the body for action and provides fight or flight type responses, whereas the PNS is more tranquil, providing rest and recovery responses.

Both the SNS and PNS can be disturbed in situations of uncontrolled stress, said the RMTBC statement. An imbalanced autonomic profile is also associated with increased inflammation, which is a known risk factor for cardiac problems, diabetes and cancer. Parasympathetic stimulation can control inflammatory reaction, which has led researchers toward stress reducers and interventions such as massage therapy, which can stimulate the PNS and bring back balance to the ANS and the body’s organs.

“Proving efficacy for massage therapy treatment is important not only for good quality patient care, it is also important to advancing RMTs in British Columbia’s integrated health care system,” said RMTBC executive director, Brenda Locke. “This research will provide greater insight into the work RMTs can be doing in the future to better address workplace stress for shift workers in order to improve their quality of life.”

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