Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

What Happens to Muscles during a Rubdown

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

What Happens to Muscles during a Rubdown

Article excerpt

Researchers say they have found what happens to muscles when a masseur goes to work on them.

Researchers are learning how massage soothes aching muscles. A massage after vigorous exercise unquestionably feels good, and it seems to reduce pain and help muscles recover. Athletes and health professionals have long contended it eases inflammation, improves blood flow and reduces muscle tightness. But no one has understood why massage has this apparently beneficial effect.

Now researchers have found what happens to muscles when a masseur goes to work on them. Their experiment required having people exercise to exhaustion and undergo five incisions in their legs to obtain muscle tissue for analysis. Despite the hurdles, the scientists still managed to find 11 brave young male volunteers. A report of their study was published in the Feb. 1 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

On a first visit, the researchers biopsied one leg of each subject at rest. At a second session, they had them vigorously exercise on a stationary bicycle for more than an hour until they could go no further. They massaged one thigh of each subject for 10 minutes, leaving the other to recover on its own. Immediately after the massage, they biopsied the thigh muscle in each leg again. After another two-and-a-half hours of rest, they did a third biopsy to track the process of muscle injury and repair.

Vigorous exercise causes tiny tears in muscle fibers, leading to an immune reaction -- inflammation -- as the body gets to work repairing the injured cells. So the researchers screened the tissue from the massaged and unmassaged legs to compare their repair processes and find out what difference massage would make.

They found that massage reduced the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulated mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cell nuclei that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair. …

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