Sports massage benefits tend to be well known for reducing muscle stiffness, improving relaxation and treating soft tissue aches, pain and injuries. But new research has shown that sports massage has be as effective as traditional pain medication for reducing muscle pain. Researchers at McMaster University recently discovered that sports massage signals muscle to build more mitochondria, the power centers of cells, which play an important role in healing.
Justin Crane, a doctoral student in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster said that this study is novel as “no one has ever looked inside the muscle to see what is happening with massage, no one looked at the biochemical effects or what might be going on in the muscle itself. We have shown the muscle senses that it is being stretched and this appears to reduce the cells’ inflammatory response. As a consequence, massage may be beneficial for recovery from injury.”
Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, professor of medicine for the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, oversaw the study. Dr. Tarnopolsky stated, “Given that mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with muscle atrophy and other processes such as insulin resistance, any therapy that can improve mitochondrial function may be beneficial,” he said.
He said that surprisingly the research proved one oft-repeated idea false: massage did not help clear lactic acid from tired muscles.
The Sports Massage Benefits Study
For their study, the researchers followed 11 men in their twenties. On their initial visit, the men’s exercise capacity was assessed. Two weeks later, the men cycled on a bicycle for more than 70 minutes, to a point of exhaustion when they couldn’t cycle any more. They then rested for 10 minutes.
While resting, a massage therapist lightly applied massage oil to both legs, and then performed massage for 10 minutes on one leg using a variety of techniques commonly used in rehabilitation. Muscle biopsies were done on both quadriceps and repeated 2.5 hours later. Researchers found reduced inflammation in the massaged leg.
Crane was in fact surprised that only 10 minutes of massage had such a profound effect. “I didn’t think that little bit of massage could produce that remarkable of a change, especially since the exercise was so robust. Seventy minutes of exercise compared to 10 of massage, it is clearly potent.”
These results show that massage therapy can be effective at blunting muscle pain in the same approach as pain medications and could be an effective alternative.
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