How Massage Reduces Inflammation
Massage has been used by humans to relieve muscle pain, well, probably since there have been humans. Now we have the research that explains the physiological undertanding of how massage works.
In a 2011 study, 11 healthy men performed intense exercise on a stationary bicycle for 60 minutes. Then they received a massage on just one leg. The researchers took muscle tissue samples directly after the massage and then later after the men had rested for a few hours.
Intense exercise creates micro-tears in the fibers that make up your muscles. These tears stimulate a natural immune response as your body repairs itself; that response is inflammation.
By analyzing the muscle tissue samples, the study authors found that massage activates the cellular mitochondria or the part of the cells that aide in cell regeneration. Massage also reduces cytokines, the chemicals involved in inflammation that cause pain.
Pain medication can also reduce swelling, but it might actually restrict the healing process by suppressing your body's natural healing inflammation response. Massage, however, reduces inflammation and pain while helping the body recover naturally. The authors of this study admit that popping pills is less costly than getting a professional massage. Still, they pointed out that the long-term costs of stunting your recovery with medication may make massage a more viable option.
Bakalar, Nicholas. "How Massage Heals Sore Muscles." The New York Times. February 6, 2012. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/how-massage-heals-sore-muscles/.
Bankhead, Charles. "Muscle Massage Rubs Out Inflammation." February 2, 2012. Medpage Today.
Crane JD, et al. Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage. Science Translation Medicine. February 2012; 4 (19): doi 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002882.