Massage therapy is commonly used following physical exertion to manage soreness and promote healing.
Physical exercise often results in microscopic muscle injury with its associated soreness, decreased range of motion, pain, and inflammation, particularly with high force or repetitive muscle contractions. This month’s research review by the Massage Therapy Foundation explores the findings of a randomized, blinded study examining the effects of Swedish massage on exertion-induced muscle injury. Dr. Nina Franklin and her team at the University of Illinois at Chicago published their research in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2014.
Massage therapy may be an effective treatment for exercise-induced injury and is often recommended. Recent research studies have shown that massage may contribute to a reduction of post-exercise inflammation. Following exercise, especially eccentric exercise, there can be an acute increase in inflammatory cytokines in muscle. This cytokine reaction can lead to a systemic inflammatory response in which neutrophils may be activated and result in impaired endothelial function as they adhere to vascular endothelial cells. For that reason, the authors sought to investigate the effect of massage therapy on endothelial dysfunction.
The study included 36 sedentary adults aged 18 to 40 who were divided into three groups: the exertion-induced muscle injury and massage group, the control group of exertion-induced muscle injury without massage, and a control group of massage without exertion-induced muscle injury. Only sedentary adults were included in the study, as defined by “<150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week [and] no history of resistance or aerobic training within the past six months prior to enrollment.” Subjects were excluded if they had a history of cardiovascular disease, suspected collagen vascular disease, or cancer and no use of vasoactive medications. Physical and physiological characteristics such as weight and blood pressure were similar among all groups.