Having a massage after strenuous exercise not only feels good, it reduces inflammation in muscles at the cellular level, researchers have found.

Massage also appears to promote the growth of new mitochondria in skeletal muscle. Mitochondria are cells' energy-producing "powerhouses," explained the researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Study Details

For the study, the investigators analyzed muscle biopsies from the quadriceps of 11 men before and after they exercised to exhaustion on stationary bicycles. After the workout, one of each participant's legs was massaged. Biopsies from both legs were taken after the 10 minutes of massage, and 25 hours after the end of the workout.

The researchers found that massage reduced the activity of inflammation-inducing proteins called cytokines in muscle cells and promoted the growth of new mitochondria.

The study was published in an online edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine.


Many people find that having a massage after exercise reduces muscle pain. This pain reduction may involve the same mechanisms as those targeted by common anti-inflammatory drugs, explained Simon Melov, PhD, an associate professor at the Buck Institute.

"There's general agreement that massage feels good; now we have a scientific basis for the experience," said Dr. Melov.

The findings provide validation for massage, which is growing in popularity, said lead author Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, of the pediatrics and medicine department at McMaster University.

Who Can Benefit From Massage

"The potential benefits of massage could be useful to a broad spectrum of individuals including the elderly, those suffering from musculoskeletal injuries, and patients with chronic inflammatory disease," Dr. Tarnopolsky said. "This study provides evidence that manipulative therapies, such as massage, may be justifiable in medical practice."

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