Photo courtesy Jayme Burtis Photography

Sports Massage Research

Massage has become an integral part of the new athletic regime, from sports medicine clinics to college training rooms, and for professional athletes to weekend warriors. A growing number of sports trainers and sports physicians believe that massage can provide an extra edge to athletes who train and perform at a high intensity. Sports-specific massage addresses wear-and-tear on the body, corrects minor injuries before they become serious and helps the athlete recover faster. The physiological and psychological benefits of massage therapy make it an ideal compliment to a total conditioning program.

Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said that massage works quite differently from non-steroidal and other anti-inflammatory drugs, which reduce inflammation and pain but may actually retard healing. Many people, for instance, pop an aspirin or Aleve at the first sign of muscle soreness, but according to Dr. Tarnopolsky,  “there’s some theoretical concern that there is a maladaptive response in the long run if you’re constantly suppressing inflammation with drugs. With massage, you can have your cake and eat it too—massage can suppress inflammation and actually enhance cell recovery.”

Support for his position comes from his February, 2012 study (1) published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Dr. Tarnopolsky had young men exercise to exhaustion followed by massage to the quadriceps muscles of one leg, leaving the other leg to recover without massage. The researchers biopsied tissue taken from both legs immediately after the massage, and again 2 1/2 hours later, which when analyzed revealed that short massage boosted the production of mitochondria (the energy factory of the cells) in the massaged leg. Other positive biological effects were also reported in the leg that received massage.

Other recent studies (2) document a host of neurochemical effects from massage. Among the neuroendocrine chemicals influenced are:

Dopamine: controls the ability to focus attention, and influences mood to produce feeling of inspiration, joy and enthusiasm. Massage increases available levels of dopamine.

Serotonin: this is the “get a grip” chemical, as it regulates appropriate emotions, attention to thoughts, quieting and comforting effects. Low levels of serotonin have been implicated in cases of depression, eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder. Massage increases the available level of Serotonin.

Endorphin/Enkephalin (endogenous opiates): The mood lifters support satiety (the feeling of fullness after eating) and modulate pain. Massage increases levels of these chemicals, regulating appetite and perceived levels of pain.

Oxytocin: Implicated in love and bonding, levels of this hormone can also be increased through massage to stimulate positive connections with others.

Cortisol: The “stress hormone”, cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands during long periods of stress. Cortisol has been implicated in many stress related symptoms including suppressed immune states and sleep disturbances. Massage reduces levels of cortisol.

Growth Hormone: Promotes cell division and in adults has been implicated in the function of tissue repair and regeneration.

Massage therapy balances the blood levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphin which in turn facilitates the production of natural killer cells in the immune system and regulates mood.

In addition to the neurochemical benefits, massage can play a major role in reducing muscle dysfunction.

Healthy muscles are smooth, hydrated and free from knots and contractions. Our skeletal system supports our muscles. Ideally our muscles are perfectly balanced. Each muscle has it’s own job in getting us around in our active life styles.

If our muscles are balanced with gravity, we are upright and graceful. But when a muscle or muscle group becomes unhealthy, it can cause a chain reaction and breakdown which affects the entire body. When one muscle or muscle group becomes injured, another muscle or muscle group will make up for the injury. Subsequently, that muscle or muscle group becomes over-worked and also breaks down. As a result, a chain reaction occurs.

Deep Tissue Massage can restore and balance the function of the muscles. The use of heat and ice can be helpful along with stretching and guidance in nutritional supplements. A careful assessment of your physical muscular system and implementing the necessary therapies can get you back to a pain-free state of being.

I hope this page has helped you to understand the broad and dramatic benefits of massage Therapy. Here is to you and your good health!

Sincerely,

Kim Freetly, L.M.T.

(1) Crain, Tarnopolsky, et al. “Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage.” Sci Transl Med 1 February 2012: Vol. 4, Issue 119

(2) Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage. Third Edition

Massage Therapy can not be used to take the place of medical treatment and a Massage Therapist cannot diagnose any medical condition.