Science Shows How Massage Eases Sore Muscles

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) — Having a massage after strenuous exercise not only feels good, it reduces inflammation in muscles at the cellular level, researchers have found.

Massage also appears to promote the growth of new mitochondria in skeletal muscle. Mitochondria are cells’ energy-producing “powerhouses,” explained the researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

For the study, the investigators conducted genetic analyses of muscle biopsies from the quadriceps of 11 men after they exercised to exhaustion on stationary bicycles. After the workout, one of each participant’s legs was massaged. Biopsies from both legs were taken before exercise, immediately after 10 minutes of massage, and 2.5 hours after the end of the workout.

The researchers found that massage reduced the activity of inflammation-inducing proteins called cytokines in muscle cells and promoted the growth of new mitochondria, according to the study published in the Feb. 1 online edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Many people find that having a massage after exercise reduces muscle pain. This pain reduction may involve the same mechanisms as those targeted by common anti-inflammatory drugs, explained Simon Melov, a Buck Institute faculty member.

“There’s general agreement that massage feels good; now we have a scientific basis for the experience,” Melov said in an institute news release.

The findings provide validation for massage, which is growing in popularity, said lead author Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, of the pediatrics and medicine department at McMaster.

“The potential benefits of massage could be useful to a broad spectrum of individuals including the elderly, those suffering from musculoskeletal injuries, and patients with chronic inflammatory disease,” Tarnopolsky said. “This study provides evidence that manipulative therapies, such as massage, may be justifiable in medical practice.”

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has more about massage therapy.