Get a Massage: Research Backs it Up!

My amazing spouse surprised me with a short getaway this past weekend. He coordinated everything: Arabella’s weekend care, room at the Gaylord in the National Harbor, meals, and – what I want to focus on – a massage. It’s been a while since I had a really good massage. My last one was also a pregnancy massage, which I thought was a bit too light – I mean, just cause I’m pregnant, doesn’t mean I’m not training. So, I was pleasantly surprised when this therapist really started digging into the muscle adhesions.

She effectively addressed my trouble areas: upper back, lower back, and calves. Plus, found an unexpected problem area in my lateral deltoids.

Ryan’s therapist attacked the root of his elbow tendonitis by working on his forearms and, hopefully, reiterated (in his mind) the importance of soft-tissue care for this type of ailment.

This experience got me thinking about all the benefits that have been proven to be associated with massage:

Are you an athlete with athsma? If so, read this… a little massage will likely improve your pulmonary function (and, bonus alert, feel amazing):

Pulmonary Functions of Children with Asthma Improve Following Massage Therapy. Objectives: This study aimed at evaluating the effect of massage therapy on the pulmonary functions of stable Egyptian children with asthma. Design: This study was an open, randomized, controlled trial. Settings/location: The study was conducted in pediatric allergy and chest unit of the New Children's Hospital of Cairo University, Egypt. Subjects and interventions: Sixty (60) children with asthma were divided randomly into two equal groups: massage therapy group and control group. Subjects in the massage therapy group received a 20-minute massage therapy by their parents at home before bedtime every night for 5 weeks in addition to the standard asthma treatment. The control group received the standard asthma treatment alone for 5 weeks. Outcome measures: Spirometry was performed for all children on the first and last days of the study. Forced expiratory flow in first second (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC), FEV1/FVC and peak expiratory flow (PEF) were recorded. Results: At the end of the study, mean FEV1 of the massage therapy group was significantly higher than controls (2.3±0.8 L versus 1.9±0.9 L, p=0.04). There was no significant difference in FVC (2.5±0.8 L versus 2.7±0.7 L, p=0.43). However, FEV1/FVC ratio showed a significant improvement in the massage therapy group (92.3±21.5 versus 69.5±17, p<0.01). PEF difference was not significant (263.5±39.6 L/minute versus 245.9±32 L/minute, p=0.06). Conclusions: A beneficial role for massage therapy in pediatric asthma is suggested. It improved the key pulmonary functions of the children, namely, FEV1 and FEV1/FVC ratio. However, further research on a larger scale is warranted.

No, asthma? Just a regular ol’ person? This study indicates all kinds of great biologic effects:

A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals. Objectives: Massage therapy is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States with 8.7% of adults receiving at least one massage within the last year; yet, little is known about the physiologic effects of a single session of massage in healthy individuals. The purpose of this study was to determine effects of a single session of Swedish massage on neuroendocrine and immune function. It was hypothesized that Swedish Massage Therapy would increase oxytocin (OT) levels, which would lead to a decrease in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity and enhanced immune function. Design: The study design was a head-to-head, single-session comparison of Swedish Massage Therapy with a light touch control condition. Serial measurements were performed to determine OT, arginine-vasopressin (AVP), adrenal corticotropin hormone (ACTH), cortisol (CORT), circulating phenotypic lymphocytes markers, and mitogen-stimulated cytokine production. Setting: This research was conducted in an outpatient research unit in an academic medical center. Subjects: Medically and psychiatrically healthy adults, 18-45 years old, participated in this study. Intervention: The intervention tested was 45 minutes of Swedish Massage Therapy versus a light touch control condition, using highly specified and identical protocols. Outcome measures: The standardized mean difference was calculated between Swedish Massage Therapy versus light touch on pre- to postintervention change in levels of OT, AVP, ACTH, CORT, lymphocyte markers, and cytokine levels. Results: Compared to light touch, Swedish Massage Therapy caused a large effect size decrease in AVP, and a small effect size decrease in CORT, but these findings were not mediated by OT. Massage increased the number of circulating lymphocytes, CD 25+ lymphocytes, CD 56+ lymphocytes, CD4 + lymphocytes, and CD8+ lymphocytes (effect sizes from 0.14 to 0.43). Mitogen-stimulated levels of interleukin (IL)-1ß, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, IL-13, and IFN-? decreased for subjects receiving Swedish Massage Therapy versus light touch (effect sizes from ?0.22 to ?0.63). Swedish Massage Therapy decreased IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13 levels relative to baseline measures. Conclusions: Preliminary data suggest that a single session of Swedish Massage Therapy produces measurable biologic effects. If replicated, these findings may have implications for managing inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

Thinking about getting a pre-event massage before your next competition? BE CAREFUL with your decision and KNOW yourself!

Psychophysiological effects of preperformance massage before isokinetic exercise. Sports massage provided before an activity is called pre-event massage. The hypothesized effects of pre-event massage include injury prevention, increased performance, and the promotion of a mental state conducive to performance. However, evidence with regard to the effects of pre-event massage is limited and equivocal. The exact manner in which massage produces its hypothesized effects also remains a topic of debate and investigation. This randomized single-blind placebo-controlled crossover design compared the immediate effects of pre-event massage to a sham intervention of detuned ultrasound. Outcome measures included isokinetic peak torque assessments of knee extension and flexion; salivary flow rate, cortisol concentration, and [alpha]-amylase activity; mechanical detection thresholds (MDTs) using Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments and mood state using the Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire. This study showed that massage before activity negatively affected subsequent muscle performance in the sense of decreased isokinetic peak torque at higher speed (p < 0.05). Although the study yielded no significant changes in salivary cortisol concentration and [alpha]-amylase activity, it found a significant increase in salivary flow rate (p = 0.03). With the massage intervention, there was a significant increase in the MDT at both locations tested (p < 0.01). This study also noted a significant decrease in the tension subscale of the POMS for massage as compared to placebo (p = 0.01). Pre-event massage was found to negatively affect muscle performance possibly because of increased parasympathetic nervous system activity and decreased afferent input with resultant decreased motor-unit activation. However, psychological effects may indicate a role for pre-event massage in some sports, specifically in sportspeople prone to excessive pre-event tension.

Outside of these few studies, there are loads of studies supporting massage for everything from improving brain development in preterm babies to care for cancer patients to treating chronic constipation.

Pretty interesting stuff and perhaps something to add to your self-care to-do list.