How Massage Eases Pain

How Massage Eases Pain

Massage has been practiced for thousands of years, but there has been little medical research on its biological benefits.

Scientists have finally proven what fans of massage have long known: a good rub down not only feels good — it can help ease muscle pain.

Researchers in Canada and California collaborated on a study which proved that massage reduces inflammation and helps muscle cells recover from strenuous exercise. Eleven healthy young men had biopsies performed on their leg muscles before an intense workout on a stationary bike. After peddling to exhaustion, each participant had one of his legs massaged for ten minutes. Researchers then did another round of biopsies on the men’s quadriceps, and compared muscle tissue from the massaged and un-massaged legs.

“Our research showed that massage dampened the expression of inflammatory cytokines in the muscle cells and promoted biogenesis of mitochondria, which are the energy-producing units in the cells,” said Simon Melov, PhD, a study co-author at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California. “There’s general agreement that massage feels good, now we have a scientific basis for the experience.”

Melov believes the reduction in pain that comes from massage is similar to the pain relief that comes from taking anti-inflammatory medicine.

”What happens when you exercise is that you’re really damaging your muscles. You’re doing these micro tears and little pieces of damage throughout your muscle. Usually what happens as a consequence of that is inflammation,” Melov says. “So when you get a massage after you’ve exercised and you’ve caused that damage, you’re damping down that inflammation which is the basis for the soreness you feel.”

Co-author Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, from the Department of Pediatrics and Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario said the findings show “much needed validation” for massage therapy.

“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,” said Tarnoplosky. “This study provides evidence that manipulative therapies, such as massage, may be justifiable in medical practice.”

Previous studies have found that massage can reduce chronic pain and improve range of motion, but until now the biological benefits of massage were unclear. The study was published online in Science Translational Medicine

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor