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The Science behind Massage: Why does it work?

Candicereimholz Mar 24, 2013

For thousands of years, we have known that massage ‘works’. We know from millions of subjective reports and hundreds of research studies that massage therapy reduces pain. What we have not realized, until recently, is why massage therapy works. Not knowing the ‘why’ behind results does not demand a lot of respect from the medical community. In the past, doctors have treated massage therapy as something they didn’t discourage, but didn’t necessarily prescribe either. Most of the general public saw massage therapy as a luxury or a special treat.

Well, times they are a changin’!

According to the American Massage Therapy Association:

  • 75% of the individuals surveyed claim their primary reason for receiving a massage in the past 12 months was medical (including pain relief, soreness, stiffness or spasm, injury recovery, migraines, and injury prevention).
  • 61% of the individuals surveyed stated their physician has recommended they get a massage!
  • Individuals who receive massage are also looking for medical settings to receive their massages more than ever before (i.e. physical therapy offices, chiropractic offices, orthopedic offices, etc.).

So, what has changed? Why are we moving away from these previously held beliefs about massage therapy? There are a lot of reasons, including the improvement in massage curriculum, the large number of continuing education opportunities, and the increasingly strict license requirements in the states. But, when it comes to the medical community, the proof is in the pudding research.

The latest research has shown (on a cellular level) that massage therapy helps the body heal. Even after one session, the body starts responding to massage therapy. Researchers did blood and muscle tests on individuals before and after a vigorous workout; one group received massage therapy after exercise and the other group didn’t. The ‘after massage’ results surprised researchers. The post-massage blood and muscle tissue showed an increase in a gene responsible for mitochondria development. The mitochondria are known for cell growth and energy production. The lifting and kneading of muscle tissue (common Swedish and deep tissue technique) also was shown to ‘turn off’ genes associated with inflammation. The research also contradicted a long believed idea that massage therapy pushes lactic acid out of muscles.

Why does this matter? This finally proves on a cellular level that massage therapy is improving recovery time after exercise and injury. This is the kind of research and results that will help educate physicians and the general public that massage therapy is a valid treatment for pain, inflammation, and soft-tissue recovery.

 

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