A new study in the Journal, Science Translational Medicine, is helping to deepen our understanding of why massage works. We all know that massage feels good, but now we know why. Massage appears to work on the cellular level in a way similar to the process of pain relievers like aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the harmful side effects.
In the study, led by Mark Tamopolsky, a professor of pediatric medicine at McMaster University in Toronto, Ontario, his team sought to learn the biological mechanism of massage. Eleven young men exercised to the point of exhaustion on stationary bikes. They had muscle biopsies performed on their leg muscle tissue before and a massage performed on a leg chosen at random. Then again ten minutes after massage, and then two and a half hours after the massage therapy.
What they found is wonderful. When compared to the non-massaged leg, there was a decrease in the level of cytokines, a protein associated with inflammation, and an increase in mitochondrial production, a sign of tissue recovery and healing, in the massaged leg. Mitochondria are one of the energy producing units in cells.
While this study isn’t the only answer to why massage works, it holds out the promise of massage treatments being accepted more in the mainstream of medical thought. Perhaps instead of prescribing more medications, doctors will start prescribing bodywork – take a massage and don’t call me in the morning!