Massage eased the feeling of lumbar fatigue in subjects who performed sustained back extensions, according to a recent study.

“The effect of massage on localized lumbar muscle fatigue” was conducted by Tim Hideaki Tanaka, Gerry Leisman, Hidetoshi Mori and Kazushi Nishijo. The study was supported by a research grant from the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario and was a collaboration of the Pacific Wellness Institute in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; the Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute Department of Cognitive Neuroscience in Troy, New York; and Tsukuba College of Technology in Ibaragi, Japan.

Twenty-nine subjects without back pain, ages 18-30, participated in the study. The study tested the hypothesis that massage on the low back affects the degree of low-back muscle fatigue caused by muscle contraction.

“Localized muscle fatigue can be induced by sustained muscular contractions and is associated with such external manifestations as inability to maintain a desired force output, muscular tremor and localized pain,” state the study’s authors.

Each subject participated in two sessions, one rest and one massage, on two separate days. Each participant was asked to lie prone on the table with his hands crossed behind his head and slowly extend his trunk until the inferior portion of his rib cage no longer rested on the table. This position was held for 90 seconds.

Depending on which treatment session the participant was involved in that day, he or she then received either massage on the lumbar region for five minutes or rested for five minutes. Subjects were then asked to repeat the 90-second extension.

Immediately after each muscle contraction, participants were asked to rate their level of fatigue on the visual analogue scale for fatigue. Electrodes were attached to the subjects throughout the session to get electromyographic (EMG) readings, which were used to measure muscle fatigue.

According to the EMG readings, massage had no significant effect on muscle fatigue. However, a paired t-test indicated that there was a significant increase in fatigue on the visual analogue scale for those participants who simply rested between back extensions.

“Massage application on the lumbar region provides significant difference in the fatigue scale as compared to rest, suggesting that massage application helped the subjects overcome the subjective feeling of fatigue,” state the study’s authors.

Source: The Pacific Wellness Institute in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Authors: Tim Hideaki Tanaka, Gerry Leisman, Hidetoshi Mori and Kazushi Nishijo. Originally published in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 9. This study is available at www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/2/9.

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