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Original Research

Open Access

Modulation of the human immune status by spinal thermal massage: a non-randomized controlled study

  • Ka-Eun Kim1
  • Na-Ri Shin1
  • Soon-Hi Park1
  • Sang-Yun Nam1
  • Yong-Soon Yoon2
  • Soon-Kwon Park3
  • Jeong-Sook Park4
  • Il-Young Cho1

1College of Medical Sciences, Jeonju University, 54896 Jeonju, Republic of Korea

2Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Presbyterian (Jesus) Medical Center, 54987 jeonju, Republic of Korea

3College of Social Sciences, Jeonju University, 54896 Jeonju, Republic of Korea

4Department of Nursing, Nambu University, 62271 Gwangju, Republic of Korea

DOI: 10.22514/sv.2021.144

Submitted: 09 June 2021 Accepted: 29 July 2021

Online publish date: 31 August 2021

*Corresponding Author(s): Il-Young Cho E-mail:


Thermal and massage therapies have long been used to control pain. Although spinal thermal massage (STM) has been used worldwide, its effectiveness has not been proven in a controlled clinical study. We here conducted a non-randomized controlled trial to assess the pain-relieving and immunomodulatory effects of STM in old-aged patients experiencing pain or disability. The experimental group was treated with STM five times a week for 8 weeks and rehabilitative regular care (RRC). The control group was treated with only RRC. Pain and immunological parameters were tested before treatment and after 4 and 8 weeks of treatment. The scores of three pain parameters were lowered by STM, and the differences between the groups were statistically significant at the two time points (p < 0.01). Quality of life determined using the 3-level EuroQol five-dimensional questionnaire scores was significantly higher in patients in the experimental group than those in the control group. Effect sizes (ES) were in the range of medium to large in the pain-related measures (0.54–1.22). The total leukocyte counts and the proportions of lymphocytes and subsets were not significantly different between the groups, whereas the proportions of monocytes and natural killer (NK) cells were higher in the experimental group than in the control group after 8 weeks (p < 0.05). The production of interleukin (IL)-4 and interferon γ in T cells was not significantly different between the groups, whereas the production of IL-2 was high in the control group. However, there was a significant increase in IFN-γ production by NK cells in the experimental group (at 4 weeks, p < 0.05). ES were medium in the immunological measures (0.53–0.68). No significant difference was observed in the production of proinflammatory cytokines, IL-1β, tumor necrosis factor α, or IL-6 between the groups. In conclusion, STM treatment has a positive effect on subjective pain and quality of life. It also enhanced NK cell proportion and activity, suggesting that STM may be beneficial in the prevention of viral diseases and cancer in old-aged people.


Spinal thermal massage; Pain; Immune modulation; Natural killer cell; Cytokine

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Ka-Eun Kim,Na-Ri Shin,Soon-Hi Park,Sang-Yun Nam,Yong-Soon Yoon,Soon-Kwon Park,Jeong-Sook Park,Il-Young Cho. Modulation of the human immune status by spinal thermal massage: a non-randomized controlled study. Signa Vitae. 2021.doi:10.22514/sv.2021.144.


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