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After a Tough Workout Get a Massage to Ease Soreness

Massage Reduces Inflammatory Compounds

Getting a massage after intense exercise has been shown to reduce factors that lead to chronic inflammation and may also help speed recovery of damaged muscle cells. Researchers with McMaster University and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California also suggest that a good rub-down may be as effective as aspirin or other pain medicines to ease pain.

Strenuous exercise damages muscle tissue, followed by rebuilding or disposal of damaged cells. Lingering inflammation can hinder the repair process.

Justin Crane, a kinesiologist at McMaster, and Simon Melov, associate professor and director of Genomics at Buck, recruited 11 active men to participate in an exhaustive stationary bicycle workout of about 70 minutes that particularly taxed the muscles of the front of the thighs (quadriceps). One leg was massaged for 10 minutes afterward and the other was not. Both muscles were biopsied immediately after therapy and again 2.5 hours later.

Immediately after the massage, the muscles in the massaged leg had reduced levels of a protein called tumor necrosis factor-alpha which is involved in systemic inflammation. In the biopsies taken two-and-a-half hours later, there were reduced levels of interleukin-6, another protein that is involved in inflammation. The researchers also noted an increase in PGC1-alpha, a compound that plays a role in muscle fiber maintenance and cell metabolism.

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Unfortunately, massage did not remove lactic acid, a substance thought to contribute to muscle soreness, as is a popular notion about the therapy. However, there was an increase in PGC1-alpha, a compound that plays a role in muscle fiber maintenance and cell metabolism. Cell damage and muscle fiber tears contribute to swelling and delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Whether these biological changes account for all of massage’s pain relief remains unclear, however, lowering inflammation can reduce pain and massaging sore muscles might also involve the release of pain-alleviating endorphins and other neurotransmitters.

“It may be that massage is as beneficial as commonly prescribed medications, but we just don’t know that yet,” said Melov. “It may also be worthwhile to see if chronic muscle inflammation and pain from causes other than exercise can be treated by massage as well,” he added.

Massage therapy is the 5th most globally used form of complementary and alternative medicine - with about 18 million people taking part in massage therapy methods. Although there have been studies that say long-term massage therapy can help with range of motion and chronic pain, the biological benefits of massage for skeletal tissue were previously unclear.

Journal Reference:
Justin D. Crane1, Daniel I. Ogborn2, et al. Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Sci Transl Med 1 February 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 119, p. 119ra13 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002882

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



You don't have to tell me twice. Why can't conventional wisdom rule - at least in this case. Everyone 'knows' massage helps.