We know that massage makes you feel better and has many benefits. But until now, we didn’t even know what the underlying physiological reasons for the benefits of massage were. We didn’t really know – from a medical standpoint – why massage makes you feel better AND helps to regenerate your muscles after strenous exercise.
Now scientists took on the task of figuring that out. They did it by recruiting volunteers and have them do strenous exercise to the point of exhaustion, particularly having them exercise on a bike. Then they massaged one leg, but not the other. Then they took samples of the muscles from both legs and compared them with each other to see what difference there was on a cellular level.
They found that massage reduced the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulated mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair. “The bottom line is that there appears to be a suppression of pathways in inflammation and an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis,” helping the muscle adapt to the demands of increased exercise, said the senior author, Dr. Mark A. Tarnopolsky.
That’s pretty impressive, because it is a mechanism that is superior to medical treatments to counter inflammation. Medication can effectively reduce inflammation and pain, but at the same time it also stymies the healing process that is associated with an inflammation.
So instead of taking an Aspirin (or other drug) when you have sore muscles, getting a massage is much better for your muscles.
You can read more about this fascinating piece of research in this article by the New York Times: How Massage Heals Sore Muscles