Why Massages are Proven to Reduce Pain

By: Bel Marra Health | Pain Management | Thursday, February 09, 2012 - 11:21 PM

Reduce PainMassage and massage therapy is practiced in almost every culture in the world, and for good reason…people say it makes them feel better. A recent study now supports these feelings.

According to a study published in Science Translation Medicine, massage helps the growth of mitochondria in skeletal muscle and can reduce inflammation. Mitochondria are part of a cell responsible for energy production. If they are defective, your body can’t function properly. The authors of the study say this explains how massage therapy seems to speed up the recovery time in athletes who get injured muscles and inflammation.

The study was conducted by Buck Institute for Research on Aging located in California and by Ontario’s McMaster University in Hamilton. The researchers focused on young men’s quadriceps following strenuous exercise. They had a Swedish massage on one leg, while the other leg acted as the control. They took biopsies from their leg muscles before and after exercise, immediately after massage therapy and then again two and a half hours later. The results…massage therapy lowered the level of inflammation and pain.

Researchers concluded that the massaging set off a series of molecular events in muscles, including the production of mitochondria, helping the body recover from painful activity and inflammation.

The University of Miami Medical School is about to launch a similar study on the effects of massage on HIV positive pregnant women. The researchers involved in this project say they believe it’s possible that massage therapy could have the same pain relieving effect as medications like Advil and Naproxen; both used for treatment of pain and inflammation.

In the United States the number of people receiving massage therapy has doubled in the last 15 years. Most doctors in the United States and Canada recognize massage as a viable therapy for back, neck, leg, and even facial pain. They say enough study has been conducted to lead them to believe that massage has an influence on the activity of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, lymphatic and nervous system.

In the summer of 2011 the Annals of Internal Medicine released a report about massage being an effective relief for back pain. The report went as far as to suggest that this form of massage therapy might be better in the short term than traditional medicine. Researchers found that people who were given a series of relaxation or structural massage sessions were better able to work and be active than those who were treated with pills, muscle relaxants or other forms of physical therapy.

Here is what researchers believe massage therapy has shown thus far:

Improves blood circulation
Improves muscle range
Increases endorphin levels (improves mood)
Reduces inflammation

Why and how does this happen? To answer this we must first take into consideration that there are over 100 different kinds of massage therapy. Aromatherapy, Lymphatic, Shiatsu, Swedish, Hot Stone, Sports, Reflexology, and Myofacial are some of the more popular. Some types of massage target a specific area of the body and thus create a certain reaction.

Light massage strokes stimulate lymph nodes because they are located just under the skin of the arms, face and neck. This increases the flow of lymph, and studies have proven that this can boost our immune system. Stretching a specific area or joint during sports massage helps increase range of motion and causes blood flow. Deep tissue massage therapy can help lower blood pressure. So depending on what technique is used you are stimulating a different system within the body that promotes the healing process.

Despite the evidence proving pain reduction, researchers and doctors do caution people about jumping into massage treatment. There are situations where massage therapy can be harmful to your health. If you have had any of the problems listed below you may want to avoid massage therapy.

Heart failure
Kidney failure
Infection of superficial veins (phlebitis)
Infection of soft tissue (cellulitis)
Blood clots in legs
Bleeding disorders
Contagious skin conditions

Consulting your doctor before massage or any alternative health treatment is always the best approach. This goes for both physical, as well as emotional pain. In addition to studies showing that massage therapy reduces physical pain, evidence indicates it can be helpful for anxiety and depression. Researchers say this is because massage involves gentle touch, comfort and care from a therapist.

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