New research indicates something athletes and sports massage therapists know well: Massage therapy reduces inflammation following strenuous exercise.

On the cellular level massage reduces inflammation and promotes the growth of new mitochondria in skeletal muscle, according to the research conducted by scientists from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario.

The study involved the genetic analysis of muscle biopsies taken from the quadriceps of eleven young males after they had exercised to exhaustion on a stationary bicycle, according to a university press release. One of their legs was randomly chosen to be massaged. Biopsies were taken from both legs prior to the exercise, immediately after 10 minutes of massage treatment and after a two-and-half-hour period of recovery.

“Our research showed that massage dampened the expression of inflammatory cytokines in the muscle cells and promoted biogenesis of mitochondria, which are the energy-producing units in the cells,” said Buck Institute faculty Simon Melov, PhD, who was responsible for the genetic analysis of the tissue samples.

He added that the pain reduction associated with massage may involve the same mechanism as those targeted by conventional anti-inflammatory drugs.

“There’s general agreement that massage feels good, now we have a scientific basis for the experience,” said Melov.

The research appeared in the Feb. 1 online edition of Science Translational Medicine.

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