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Oh, that wonderful massage you dream of! Relaxing on the table as your therapist smooths out the knots in your muscles one by one, what could be better?
In fact, people have been turning to massage to help their muscles feel better and grab that relaxation sensation for more than 3,000 years.
But if you’ve only thought of massage as an indulgence, I have news for you…
According to a team of scientists from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, massage does more than just help you relax and relieve aches.
It really makes your muscles heal faster and stronger following an injury — by activating helpful responses from your immune system.
The secret that speeds healing and banishes pain
This is a fact that will come as no surprise to many athletes out there. That’s because athletic trainers for the most elite sports teams have been recommending massage for decades to help athletes rehabilitate their bodies after intense exercise so they can stay in the game.
However, the mechanism behind how massage worked in healing has been a mystery. So the Harvard and Paulson researchers set out to clear things up…
They used a custom-designed robotic system to mimic massage and apply a consistent force into the legs of mice. And what they found was exciting.
The team discovered that by applying this mechanical load, immune cells, known as neutrophils were rapidly cleared from even severely injured muscles. This resulted in a down-chain response that also cleared inflammatory proteins, called cytokines (which are released by neutrophils from the muscles).
The end result? Dramatically improved muscle fiber regeneration.
“Our work shows a very clear connection between mechanical stimulation (massage) and immune function. This has promise for regenerating a wide variety of tissues including bone, tendon, hair, and skin, and can also be used in patients with diseases that prevent the use of drug-based interventions,” explains Dr. Bo Ri Seo, first author of the study, in a university release.
Just two weeks delivers impressive results
And this isn’t the first time that massage has been found to have powerful healing effects.
The same researchers studied the effects of mechanotherapy on injured mice a few years ago, discovering that a good rub-down doubled the rate of muscle regeneration while reducing tissue scarring — in just two weeks.
So what type of massage works for healing? After all, the first thing any therapist will ask is whether you want light or deep pressure.
Well, the researchers have the answer to that one too…
The team used a science called “soft robotics” to monitor and control massage force in those study mice.
And they found that when they applied a greater force, the injured muscles became stronger.
In other words, it’s deep tissue for the win!
No longer just a guilty pleasure
So if you have a muscle injury, it’s time to schedule a massage.
Another option that I like to use at home is a massage gun. It can be used to deeply penetrate muscles and is easy to use on your own for areas like hips and thighs, or with the help of your partner to work on painful areas in your back.
Additionally, you can further accelerate healing by adding certain supplements to your daily regimen that help lower inflammation.
It’s also important to stay active and consider how your thoughts may be making your pain even worse on a daily basis.
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