Though massage therapy has been shown to soothe soreness after exercise, the biological functions behind that process was not fully understood until now.
A new study reveals the biological changes that occur with massage therapy. In the study, 11 healthy men performed intense exercise on a stationary bike for an hour. Then they received a massage on one leg. The researchers took muscle biopsies directly after the massage and then later after the men had rested for two and half hours.
Exercising intensely creates tiny tears in your muscle fibers. This triggers a natural immune response as your body repairs itself; that response is typically inflammation accompanied by pain.
By examining the men’s leg tissues, researchers discovered that massage stimulates mitochondria or the part of the cells that aide in cell regeneration. Massage therapy also reduces cytokines, the critical compounds involved in inflammation that causes pain.
Pain medication works by reducing inflammation, but it may actually restrict healing by suppressing the body’s natural recovery process. Massage on the other hand reduces inflammation and pain while promoting recovery. Researchers admitted that popping pills is less costly than getting a professional massage. Still, they pointed out that the long-term costs of stunting your recovery with medication may make massage a more viable option.
Bakalar, Nicholas. “How Massage Heals Sore Muscles.” The New York Times. February 6, 2012. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/how-massage-heals-sore-muscles/.
Bankhead, Charles. “Muscle Massage Rubs Out Inflammation.” February 2, 2012. Medpage Today. http://www.medpagetoday.com/Neurology/PainManagement/30996.
Crane JD, et al. “Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage,” Science Translation Medicine. February 2012; 4 (19): doi 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002882.