Experts have reviewed the study Science Translational Medicine for WebMD and say it is one of the first to document how human muscle cells respond to massage, a popular therapy that has struggled to gain respect as serious medicine. It echoes a 2008 study in rabbits, which found that rubbed muscle tissue recovered more strength after exercise than muscle tissue that was simply rested, with less swelling and inflammation.
As encouraging as these findings are, however, there’s still a lot the study isn’t able to say. Priscilla Clarkson, PhD, who studies post-exercise muscle soreness, cautions that the study didn’t look at whether massage actually improved pain.
“If a massage gives you temporary respite from the pain, by all means, try it. However, these molecular changes may have no effect – or may need to be elicited many times to have a lasting effect.” Clarkson, who is distinguished professor of kinesiology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
What’s also not known is whether massage may still be helpful if a person gets a rubdown hours or days after a hard workout instead of just mites. Still scientists who say they were once wary that massage had any real benefits, beyond relaxation, say they are starting to come around.
“I went into all this truly skeptical”, says Mark H. Rapaport MD, chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral services at Emory University in Atlanta. “I’ve changed. I think there is something there. We saw a profound biological changes associated with it.” says Rapaport, referring to a 2010 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, which found that Swedish Massage boosted immune function and decreased stress hormones compared by a placebo.”
“There’s a real consistency between their results, and our results,” Rapaport says, “I was amazed at how positive their results were based on a really brief intervention.”