The pain-relieving benefits of massage therapy are well-known to massage clients and therapists alike. As the allopathic medical community’s interest in massage therapy grows, so too do studies into massage’s physiological effects.

For a new study, researchers from the Neuromechanics Research Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, at Auburn University, in Auburn, Alabama, investigated the influence of a standardized, clinical neck-and-shoulder therapeutic massage intervention on physiological measures, compared to a light-touch and control intervention.

“Little is known regarding the physiological and clinical effects of therapeutic massage, even though it is often prescribed for musculoskeletal complaints such as chronic neck pain,” the researchers noted in an abstract published on

Flexor carpi radialis a-motoneurone pool excitability (alpha motor neurons initiate the contraction of skeletal-muscle muscle fibers); electromyography (EMG) signal amplitude of the upper trapezius during maximal muscle activity; and cervical range of motion were used to assess possible physiological changes and clinical effects of therapeutic massage, the abstract noted.

Sixteen healthy adults participated in three, 20-minute interventions: control, light touch and therapeutic massage. Among the results:

• Analysis of covariance indicated a decrease in flexor carpi radialis a-motoneurone pool excitability after therapeutic massage, compared to both the control and light-touch interventions.

• EMG signal amplitude decreased after therapeutic massage by 13 percent when compared to the control, and 12 percent as compared to light-touch intervention. (Higher EMG signal amplitude is related to more forceful muscle contractions.)

• The therapeutic massage intervention produced increases in cervical range of motion in all directions assessed: flexion, lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.

“Physiological and clinical changes after therapeutic massage of the neck and shoulders” was published in the journal Manual Therapy, published by Elsevier Ltd.

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