The first scientific evidence that massage helps heal muscles after exercise

The Wall Street Journal's Katherine Hobson has a story today about a small study that tested the common-sense idea that massage helps soothe sore muscles. She writes:

The researchers exercised 11 young men to exhaustion over about 70 minutes, then massaged a single leg (determined randomly for each man) for ten minutes. The subjects received a muscle biopsy in both quad muscles to gather samples for massaged and non-massaged legs. The biopsy was repeated after a 2.5-hour rest period.

Researchers analyzed the samples from the different legs to see what was going on after the massage. They found two major changes: reduced signs of inflammation, and an increase in production of mitochondria, the cell's energy factories.

Curbed production of inflammatory molecules "may reduce pain by the same mechanism as conventional anti-inflammatory drugs" like aspirin and ibuprofen, the authors write.


The increase in mitochondria might also aid in recovery, the researchers speculate. This means that massage joins a few other alternative therapies in the category of "it works, but we're not sure why." Still, it's useful to know that massage causes a measurable physiological reaction.

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"So, I get worked to the point of physical exhaustion for more than an hour, get a half-assed massage, then get a needle puncture that extracts internal flesh from me? And I get paid? $50?! I am so signing up!"

And scene.