Most athletes can testify to the pain-relieving,
recovery-promoting effects of massage. Now there's a scientific
basis that supports booking a session with a massage therapist: On
the cellular level massage reduces inflammation and promotes the
growth of new mitochondria in skeletal muscle. So says new research
from the Buck Institute on Aging and McMaster University in
Hamilton, Ontario. You can read more about this study and watch a video
from one of the researchers explaining how they made the
The study involved the genetic analysis of muscle biopsies taken
from the quadriceps of eleven young males after they had exercised
to exhaustion on a stationary bicycle. One of their legs was
randomly chosen to be massaged. Biopsies were taken from both legs
prior to the exercise, immediately after 10 minutes of massage
treatment and after a 2.5 hour period of recovery.
Buck Institute faculty Simon Melov, PhD, was responsible for the
genetic analysis of the tissue samples. "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 Melov. He added that the
pain reduction associated with massage may involve the same
mechanism as those targeted by conventional anti-inflammatory
drugs. "There's general agreement that massage feels good, now we
have a scientific basis for the experience," said Melov.
study proving that massage therapy is effective for lower back
pain, was featured on NPRs "All Things Considered."
Low back pain is very common. It often goes away after several
days or weeks, but it may last for months or years or periodically
recur. The usual treatments for low back pain include drugs
(painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and muscle relaxants),
physical therapy, back exercises, and education about ways to
prevent back injury and deal with back pain. Some people use
alternative treatments for low back pain, such as chiropractic or
This study compared the short-term and long-term effects of
relaxation massage, structural massage, and usual care for people
with persisting low back pain.
The researchers first gathered information about the participants'
symptoms and how much those symptoms limited their daily
activities. They then randomly assigned each participant to receive
relaxation massage, structural massage, or usual medical care
without massage. Participants assigned to the massage groups got
about 1 hour of massage once a week for 10 weeks. The researchers
remeasured participants' symptoms and ability to perform daily
activities after completing the 10 massage treatments, and then at
6 months and 1 year after starting massage therapy.
Participants who received massage had less pain and were better
able to perform daily activities after 10 weeks than those who
received usual care. The benefits of massage lasted for 6 months
but were less clear at 1 year, when pain and function had improved
about equally in all 3 groups. The type of massage did not seem to
make a difference. Symptoms and ability to perform activities
improved about the same in the 2 massage groups.
(The full report is titled "A Comparison of the Effects of 2 Types
of Massage and Usual Care on Chronic Low Back Pain. A Randomized,
Controlled Trial." It is in the 5 July 2011 issue of Annals of
Internal Medicine (volume 155, pages 1-9). The authors are D.C.
Cherkin, K.J. Sherman, J. Kahn, R. Wellman, A.J. Cook, E. Johnson,
J. Erro, K. Delaney, and R.A. Deyo.)
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