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New study confirms massage improves blood flow, treats muscle soreness

Massage therapy improves general blood flow and alleviates muscle soreness after exercise, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The study, reported online in advance of print in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, also showed that massage improved vascular function in people who had not exercised, suggesting that massage has benefits for people regardless of their level of physical activity.


April 22, 2014
By Newswise

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Improved circulation and relief of muscle soreness are common claims
made for massage’s benefits, but no studies have substantiated such
claims, even though massage therapy is increasingly used as an adjunct
to traditional medical interventions, said Shane Phillips, UIC associate
professor of physical therapy and principal investigator on the study.

"Our
study validates the value of massage in exercise and injury, which has
been previously recognized but based on minimal data," said Nina Cherie
Franklin, UIC postdoctoral fellow in physical therapy and first author
of the study. "It also suggests the value of massage outside of the
context of exercise."

The researchers had set out to see if
massage would improve systemic circulation and reduce muscle soreness
after exercise. Healthy sedentary adults were asked to exercise their
legs to soreness using a standard leg press machine. Half of the
exercisers received leg massages, using conventional Swedish massage
techniques, after the exercise. Participants rated their muscle soreness
on a scale from 1 to 10.

As expected, both exercise groups
experienced soreness immediately after exercise. The
exercise-and-massage group reported no continuing soreness 90 minutes
after massage therapy. The exercise-only group reported lasting soreness
24 hours after exercise.

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Exercise-induced muscle injury has been
shown to reduce blood flow. In this study, brachial artery flow
mediated dilation (FMD) — a standard metric of general vascular health,
measured in the upper arm — was taken by ultrasound at 90 minutes, 24,
48 and 72 hours after exercise.

For the exercise-and
massage-group, FMD indicated improved blood flow at all time points,
with improvement tapering off after 72 hours. As expected, the
exercise-only group showed reduced blood flow after 90 minutes and 24
and 48 hours, with a return to normal levels at 72 hours.

"We
believe that massage is really changing physiology in a positive way,"
said Franklin. "This is not just blood flow speeds – this is actually a
vascular response."

Because vascular function was changed at a
distance from both the site of injury and the massage, the finding
suggests a "systemic rather than just a local response," she said.

"The
big surprise was the massage-only control group, who showed virtually
identical levels of improvement in circulation as the exercise and
massage group," said Phillips.

"The circulatory response was sustained for a number of days, which suggests that massage may be protective," said Phillips.

For
people with limited mobility or those with impaired vascular function,
further research may show that regular massage offers significant
benefits, the authors say.

Dr. Mohamed Ali, Austin T. Robinson and Edita Norkeviciute of UIC are co-authors on the study.

This
work was supported by a Massage Therapy Foundation research grant as
well as National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grants K23HL85614,
RO1HL095701, and HL095701-01A2S, and UIC’s Center for Clinical and
Translational Science award UL1RR029879 from the National Center for
Research Resources.


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