Faster Recovery and Improved Overall Health through Massage
by Gualberto C. Perez, MD, CPI
Most people will tell you that a massage feels great after exercise. After all, massage can soothe sore muscles, increase circulation, reduce inflammation and get you back to your chosen sport or activity even faster. These positive effects of massage have often been accepted as fact and remained unquestioned, but are they correct in their assumptions?
A review of recent research studies on massage reveals some very important and perhaps life-altering findings. To begin, a 2012 study conducted by McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, showed that massage can, in fact, inhibit inflammation and be beneficial to muscles that have been damaged through exercise. The McMaster study drew attention from The New York Times and was summarized in a 2012 post on the Times’ blog. In it, we learn two important ways that massage can aid tired muscles after exercise:
Massage limits the production of cytokines—compounds that are responsible for muscle inflammation. By reducing cytokine production, inflammation after bouts of vigorous exercise can be greatly reduced thereby decreasing recovery times and allowing people to exercise longer and more often.
Massage can stimulate mitochondria, the “engines” of cells that convert glucose to energy, and are also responsible for cell repair.
The combination of limited cytokine production and stimulated mitochondria, notes the study’s lead author Dr. Mark A. Tarnopolsky, allows muscles to better adapt to increased levels of activity.
When the McMaster study is viewed alongside other recent work about massage, one can begin to fully understand the profound benefits of simple daily massage on our overall health. For example, it has long been accepted that massage stimulates circulation, and a 2014 study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago demonstrated just that. The study found that massage therapy, when administered after a round of exercise, can counteract the reduction of blood flow that often occurs as a result of exercise-induced muscle injury. The study group that received massage saw higher levels of blood flow for up to 72 hours after exercise. This improved blood flow can lead to better oxygenation of muscle tissues throughout the body, faster recovery times and improved healing after injury or surgery. The study also found that massage increased circulation in individuals who had not previously exercised, demonstrating that massage can have benefits for all, regardless of levels of activity.
At this point, if you’re still skeptical about the health benefits of massage, consider the work of Dr. Tiffany Field, founder of Touch Research Institute at University of Miami. Over the last three decades, Dr. Field’s comprehensive efforts have shown everything from how massage benefits athletes to how light touch therapy can stimulate brain activity and growth in premature infants. Dr. Field’s work has been recognized and incorporated by countless physicians, psychologists and researchers over the past 30 years and has garnered her multiple Senior Research Scientist Awards from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Finally, to take things a step further, a 2000 study from the Journal of Korean Academy of Fundamentals of Nursing demonstrated that a daily foot massage can improve heart health by improving systolic blood pressure and reducing overall stress levels. In that study, two groups of nursing students were evaluated for the effects of a daily foot massage on mood, fatigue, blood pressure and pulse rate. The study group that received the massage saw significantly lower systolic blood pressures as well as significantly improved mood scores and decreased levels of fatigue. The Korean study is also a prime example of the importance of massage in cultures throughout the world and the transition in Eastern cultures to massage as a fully research-based mainstream modality.
Forty years ago, massage wasn’t necessarily on the radar as a hot topic for clinical research, however, the works of Dr. Field and other institutions noted here show massage to not only be a worthwhile topic for research but also an extremely beneficial daily practice for anyone. The simple conclusion of all this? You can feel better—perhaps even live longer—through daily massage.
Awarded the 2018 Leadership Award in Clinical Research by a principal investigator by the ACRP, Gualberto C. Perez, MD, CPI has more than 27 years of successful clinical research experience in the pharmaceutical industry at the CRO level in Phases I-IV R&D. Dr. Perez is currently the CEO at Happy Feet Plus/Kenkoh. For more information, visit HappyFeet.com or KenkohRelief.com.