The current study investigated the immediate neurophysiological effects of different types of massage in healthy adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Much attention has been given to the default mode network, a set of brain regions showing greater activity in the resting state. These regions (i. e. insula, posterior and anterior cingulate, inferior parietal and medial prefrontal cortices) have been postulated to be involved in the neural correlates of consciousness, specifically in arousal and awareness. We posit that massage would modulate these same regions given the benefits and pleasant affective properties of touch. To this end, healthy participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: 1. Swedish massage, 2. reflexology, 3. massage with an object or 4. a resting control condition. The right foot was massaged while each participant performed a cognitive association task in the scanner. We found that the Swedish massage treatment activated the subgenual anterior and retrosplenial/posterior cingulate cortices. This increased blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal was maintained only in the former brain region during performance of the cognitive task. Interestingly, the reflexology massage condition selectively affected the retrosplenial/posterior cingulate in the resting state, whereas massage with the object augmented the BOLD response in this region during the cognitive task performance. These findings should have implications for better understanding how alternative treatments might affect resting state neural activity and could ultimately be important for devising new targets in the management of mood disorders.
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