Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signalling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage
Massage therapy is commonly used during physical rehabilitation of skeletal muscle to ameliorate pain and promote recovery from injury. Although there is evidence that massage may relieve pain in injured muscle, how massage affects cellular function remains unknown.
The discovery provides strong evidence that massage merits further study as a treatment for injuries and chronic disorders, said Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a researcher at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and lead author of a study about the research.
The authors administered either massage therapy or no treatment to separate quadriceps of 11 young male participants after exercise-induced muscle damage. Tarnopolsky, who has studied the cellular effects of exercise for decades, performed muscle biopsies in both quadriceps (vastus lateralis) of healthy young men before and after they'd undergone strenuous exercise, and then a third time after massaging just one leg in each individual. Comparing tissues from each subject's massaged leg with tissues from his unmassaged leg, Tarnopolsky and his team found that massage therapy reduced exercise-related inflammation by dampening activity of a protein called NF-kB.
Massage also seemed to help cells recover by boosting amounts of another protein called PGC-1alpha, which spurs production of new mitochondria — tiny organelles inside cells that are crucial for muscle energy generation and adaptation to endurance exercise. Other proteins with similar roles were influenced by massage as well.
The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was the first that drilled down to cellular basics. We knew there was something going on, but we couldn't get to it a decade ago, because the technology to probe the smallest structures of the body didn't yet exist.
Stretching of the back improves gait, mechanical sensitivity and connective tissue inflammation.
A new study from University of Vermont studied the role played by nonspecialized connective tissues in chronic non-specific low back pain. In a recent ultrasound study, human subjects with chronic low back pain had altered connective tissue structure compared to human subjects without low back pain, suggesting the presence of inflammation and/or fibrosis in the low back pain subjects. Mechanical input in the form of static tissue stretch has been shown in vitro and in vivo to have anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic effects. To better understand the pathophysiology of lumbar nonspecialized connective tissue as well as potential mechanisms underlying therapeutic effects of tissue stretch, the scientists including Dr. Helene Langevin, developed a carrageenan-induced inflammation model in the low back of a rodent.
The authors showed induction of inflammation in the lumbar connective tissues resulted in altered gait, increased mechanical sensitivity of the tissues of the low back, and local macrophage infiltration. Mechanical input was then applied to this model as in vivo tissue stretch for 10 minutes twice a day for 12 days. In vivo tissue stretch mitigated the inflammation-induced changes leading to restored stride length and intrastep distance, decreased mechanical sensitivity of the back and reduced macrophage expression in the nonspecialized connective tissues of the low back.
This study highlights the need for further investigation into the contribution of connective tissue to low back pain and the need for a better understanding of how interventions involving mechanical stretch could provide maximal therapeutic benefit. This tissue stretch research is relevant to body-based treatments such as yoga or massage, and to some stretch techniques used with physical therapy.
Touch massage (TM) is a form of pleasant touch stimulation used as treatment in clinical settings and found to improve well-being and decrease anxiety, stress, and pain. Emotional responses reported during and after TM have been studied, but the underlying mechanisms are still largely unexplored.
In the study conduced by Swedish scientists, the authors used functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) to test the hypothesis that the combination of human touch (i.e. skin-to-skin contact) with movement is eliciting a specific response in brain areas coding for pleasant sensations. The design included four different touch conditions; human touch with or without movement and rubber glove with or without movement. Force (2.5N) and velocity (1.5cm/s) were held constant across conditions. The pleasantness of the four different touch stimulations was rated on a visual analog scale (VAS-scale) and human touch was rated as most pleasant, particularly in combination with movement.
The fMRI results revealed that TM stimulation most strongly activated the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC. These results are consistent with findings showing pgACC activation during various rewarding pleasant stimulations. This area is also known to be activated by both opioid analgesia and placebo. Together with these prior results, the finding furthers the understanding of the basis for positive TM treatment effects.
The study is published in Neuroimage.
Fish enjoy a good massage as much as human
It’s not exactly a secret that many humans derive pleasure from massages, and previous research has shown other primates enjoy it as well. And now, we’ve found the first non-primate to use massages to relieve stress: the surgeonfish.
Surgeonfish are one of a number of fish species that enlist tiny cleaner wrasse fish to clean it, scraping off dead skin and potential parasites. Previous observations have also suggested that the wrasse rubbing on the pelvic and pectoral fins of the surgeonfish might serve to calm it down, in much the same way a masseur can relieve stress in a human.
To put this idea to the test, Marta Soares of Portugal’s ISPA University Institute ran an experiment featuring two groups of eight surgeonfish. The fish were first exposed to all the stresses they would naturally experience in the wild, which included everything from predators to competition over food. They were then place in tanks that had models of cleaner wrasse. One set of models stayed completely stationary, while the other could move back and forth, which would allow them to simulate rubbing on the surgeonfish’s fins.
While all the surgeonfish tried to get some use out of these fake cleaner fish, only those in the tanks with the moving models had any success. By positioning themselves below the model’s “fins”, the surgeonfish could get their equivalent of a backrub. It wasn’t cleaning them, but it apparently still had an effect – these fish had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than the fish in the tanks with stationary models. It seems this fishy back rub relaxed the surgeonfish just as a human massage might.
San Diego State researcher Todd Anderson comments on the research: “Normally I would think that physical contact would elevate stress in fish, as it should, for example, in prey experiencing attempted capture by a predator. However, the contact [in this study] is initiated by the client fish for an often beneficial relationship [that includes] removing parasites.”
For her part, Soares says that this apparent pleasure and stress relief indicates a previously unconsidered benefit for the surgeonfish in their relationship with the cleaner wrasse. It also might well mean that fish experience tactile sensations in a way that’s far more similar to humans than previously thought.
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