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Massage helps injured muscles heal faster and stronger

Often massage is seen as a bit of a luxury right? Lying on the table, white fluffy towels, the scent of essential oils in the air as the dulcet tones of Enya play through the clinic. Well maybe in some clinics but if you have been to our clinic, Muscle Therapy Australia, you know that we mean business and it is more about the healing and therapeutic benefits that we use massage for rather than the pampering effects.

Many people have the misconception that massage is more of a luxurious indulgence, but with the latest research coming out of Harvard University in the U.S.A we have more reasons to rethink this. The discoveries from this research have confirmed what we have always thought is happening, that massage is actually speeding up the body's natural healing process. So this is why you feel so good after you have a massage for a muscle or soft tissue injury.

In the study they used robots to apply specific and repeatable amounts of pressure to the muscle tissue of mice. Prior to doing this they took an image of some damaged muscle tissue. After the pressure was applied over 14 days they re scanned the muscle tissue and found that after day 3 there were reduced levels of most inflammatory factors and proteins such as cytokines. Immune cells called Neutrophils were also found to be reduced after the massage. It has been thought that the long term presence of Neutrophils can impair muscle regeneration. One idea is that massage helps to clear these cytokines and neutrophils from the muscle and help the healing. They found that this significantly reduced damaged muscle fibres and scar tissue. It has long been thought in massage therapy that massage helps to move byproducts of the immune system and speed up healing so this study is definitely supporting this.

Immunofluorescence images show that when an injured muscle is treated with mechanotherapy (right), its muscle fiber type composition changes compared to untreated muscles (left). The composition of the treated muscle is more similar to that of healthy muscle, implying that treatment helps restore proper muscle function.

Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Previous studies from the team at Harvard led by Dr David Mooney were able to show that massage could double the rate of tissue healing and reduced scar tissue in injured mice.

There have been many studies over the years to try and test the outcomes of massage on soft tissue healing and usually the only measurable outcomes is improvement of pain or function in a person. This is all fine but these are more subjective measures. This is one of the first studies that uses repeatable, specific amounts of pressure that is objective.

If you are a regular to massage as a way of healing your muscle and soft tissue injuries then we are just preaching to the choir here but if you are on the side that think massage is still just a luxury that feels nice to do once in a while then hopefully this research will open your mind to the possibility of using massage a go to for treating your injuries.

This is early days in this research and obviously this study has been performed on mice. So if you have a mouse that needs massage then we know it definitely works. Human trials are yet to be performed but as the functions in mice and humans are very similar it is no leap of the imagination that this should work.

As always we love any feedback you have or questions relating to this blog. I have attached some articles where this info first was reported so you can read the research as well.

The study was originally published in Science Translational Medicine on October 6th 2021.



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