DOMS and Massage, Part II

Previously we looked at theories about post-exercise massage, highlighting a classic misconception of lactic acid, its affects, and the discovery of lactic acid as a fuel. To recap, until recently physiologists believed that lactic acid caused Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). While there are still numerous theories to the cause, research has shown that it is most likely related to tearing of the muscle during strenuous exercise and the body’s effort to repair the damage. As researchers try to pinpoint the cause there is hope of finding more effective methods of symptom alleviation.This brings our focus to DOMS symptom relief and the effect massage has.

In the 2005 Journal of Athletic Training article, “Effects of Massage on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, Swelling, and Recovery of Muscle Function”, a study was conducted on five men and five women, looking at upper body resistance training, DOMS and the effect of massage on the symptoms. The conclusion was that “massage was effective in alleviating DOMS by approximately 30% and reducing swelling, but it had no effects on muscle function.”

In another study published in February 2012 by Science Translational Medicine, “Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage”, researchers indicate massage post-exercise reduces inflammation and promotes energy for cell growth, which debunks past studies that claim massage post-exercise has no value.

This study sampled 11 males post-exercise, and proceeded to only massage one leg for 10 minutes. The researchers took a tissue sample from each quadriceps muscle in order to gauge the difference in mRNA levels (which points to how protein is being built in the body) in the massaged leg vs. the non-massaged leg. Samples were taken immediately after massage and again after 2.5 hours of recovery.

The results, as Discover Magazine explains it, are lower levels of NFkB (which reduces inflammation) in the first set of biopsies and higher PGC-1alpha (generates cell growth) in the second round. Lactic acid levels remained the same in both the massaged and un-treated legs.

Both of the studies produced examples of reduced inflammation and promoted cell regeneration. Both items are crucial for a positive recovery, which then allows for a more consistent and repeatable routine, thus allowing one to achieve more in their exercising or training.

This new information also shows massage has the potential to not only soothe muscle soreness for athletes, but perhaps those who suffer from chronic inflammatory illnesses – including arthritis and muscular dystrophy. Although the research as not been applied to chronic pain versus exercise-induced pain, the study certainly suggests a possible treatment.

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