I recently came across a research paper, which was published at the beginning of February 2012 in the Science Translational Medicine Journal, about how massage techniques can benefit people who take part in endurance sports, such as half- and full-marathon runners. The research, conducted by a team at McMaster University, Canada, took 11 men accustomed to endurance sports and asked them to cycle to the point of exhaustion. At this point, exercise-induced muscle damage had been assumed to occur. Inflammation was found at the site of any injuries. Inflammation of a muscle causes irritation of the muscle’s nerve, which can lead to pain4, 5. Ten minutes of massage was then performed by a qualified practitioner to one thigh only. After the massage, a muscle biopsy was taken from each thigh, and then another biopsy taken 2.5 hours after the massage.
Their results found that massage techniques changed the thigh muscle DNA! The thigh muscle reduced the amount of inflammation produced, and increased muscle cell mitochondria production. Mitochondria produce the energy required by the muscle cell to repair and heal itself. So, to summarise, the massaged thigh had less inflammation (and therefore less potential pain), and more healing and repair of muscle fibres occurred.
Drugs such as ibuprofen work by blocking inflammation from occurring, and it is now thought that massage techniques work on a similar basis, but in a natural way. As ibuprofen can have side effects, including disrupting other medications from working, and is not suitable for people with some other medical conditions, massage is a natural alternative to drug therapy. It is also known that ibuprofen works on injury sites that have a good blood supply. Areas, like the Achilles tendon, which have a poor blood supply, are harder to treat with anti-inflammatories, and so again massage techniques may be the treatment of choice in these instances.
When an osteopath treats a runner, as well as addressing the muscles, they look at all the joints that take impact from the running surface. Do you know you have 35 joints in the foot and ankle, three in the knee, five in the hip and pelvis, and five in the lower back? Osteopaths can assess whether any of these joints are stiff or injured, and if they are preventing you from running at your peak. We can then articulate each of these joints to reduce stiffness, and increase the amount of movement in each joint. So, when combined with massage techniques and advice on appropriate footwear and stretching, you should notice some real improvements following osteopathic treatment.
- Cherkin, D.C., Eisenberg, D., Sherman, K.J., Barlow, W., Kaptchuk, T.J., Street, J. and Deyo, R.A. 2001. Randomised trial comparing traditional Chinese medical acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and self-care education for chronic low back pain. Archives of Internal Medicine, 161, pp.1081–1088.
- Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., Krasnegor, J., Theakston, H., 2001. Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 106, pp.131–145.
- Preyde, M., 2000. Effectiveness of massage therapy for subacute low-back pain: A randomised controlled trial. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 162, pp.1815–1820.
- Cunha, F.Q., Poole, S., Lorenzetti, B.B., Ferreira, S.H., 1992. The pivotal role of tumour necrosis factor a in the development of inflammatory hyperalgesia. British Journal of Pharmacology, 107, pp.660–664.
- Manjavachi, M.N., Motta, E.M., Marotta, D.M., Leite, D.F., Calixto, J.B., 2010. Mechanisms involved in IL-6-induced muscular mechanical hyperalgesia in mice. Pain, 151, pp.345–355.
Author: Carly Yates, Osteopath at Perfect Balance Clinic, Hatfield.