Massage and Reaction Time

Beth Deines

EBIO 1230



            After being a massage therapist for five years and working in different settings, I have wondered if it is safe to drive immediately after receiving a massage. When I worked at a destination resort, it was not something I thought about a whole lot. Now that I work at a studio located in a strip mall, I worry about this quite a bit. My clients are always pretty groggy and/or disoriented when we finish our session. A few of my clients have even said to me, “I feel like I am on drugs right now!” We were taught in massage school that massage actually decreases reaction time, but this is over the long-term. What about the immediate effects? My hypothesis was that a massage will actually increase reaction time immediately following the massage.

            In order to test my hypothesis, I used four subjects and gave each of them a reaction test consisting of a combination of six light and sound stimuli. Each subject was then treated with a 60 minute, full-body, medium-to-deep pressure massage. The subjects were allowed to dress and then given another six-stimuli reaction test. The second reaction test was presented in a different order than the first, so that the subject could not anticipate the stimuli and therefore react more quickly. I also used a control for this experiment. I had two subjects take the reaction tests before and after a 60 minute sedentary period. This showed whether or not being inactive was a factor in the equation. Since massage induces a state of deep relaxation, I predicted that the subjects’ reaction times would be slower immediately following the massages, but that the control situation will not greatly affect reaction time.

            My results indicated that reaction time is significantly increased immediately following a 60 minute full-body massage. (Reaction time mean before = .762; reaction time mean after = .834; P = 0.024.) The control results were also consistent with my predictions. The sedentary subjects did not experience any significant increase or decrease in reaction time. (Reaction time mean before = .713; reaction time mean after = .669; P = 0.133.)

            My results are consistent with predictions based on my hypothesis. However, there were still potential problems with my experiment. For example, the sample size was much too small. If I were going to replicate this study, I would like at least 20 subjects each for the treatment and control situations. I would also use a more sophisticated method of reaction testing or, if possible, a driving simulator. I would also be sure to keep the sample between a certain age and control when and what they eat.

            Results from a similar study from the University of Bratislava confirmed my results. They used members of their skiing and pentathalon teams in order to test the effects of massage and sauna on reaction time. They also found that the immediate effects of these treatments increased the athletes’ reaction times.