Why does massage make your muscles feel good when they’re sore?
Massage has been used for over 3000 years to ease sore muscles. The first question is why do our muscles get sore anyway? Let’s look at exercise first.
Mark Tarnopolsky, Head of Neuromuscular and Neurometabolic Disorders in the Department of Paediatrics at McMaster University, studied the effects of exercise and massage at a molecular level. When a muscle is under energy stress i.e being worked, our heart rate elevates, the muscles pull in nutrients and oxygen making NRG in the cells of the muscles, the mitochondria for those of you who remember their leaving cert biology class. Our muscles also experience ‘microtears’ while exercising to a hard level.
After exercise is the repair time for the muscles, therefore if you’re training hard, it so important to have your rest days built in, at this rest phase inflammatory cells are produced and proteins are made to repair the muscles, that’s why it’s important to get good quality protein into your diet.
How does Massage help?
Mark did a study where he got some guys to do some hard cycling and then massaged only one leg. A biopsy was taken, before the cycle and after the cycle, and a few hours after the massage on each leg.
Mark found that the muscle in the massaged leg was repairing quicker than the non-massaged leg because more mitochondria were being produced which is a sign of repair. He also found that the massaged leg had fewer inflammatory markers in the cells, with less inflammation comes less stiffness and pain.
Does massage flush out lactate?
What is lactate? It is a molecule that’s made when our muscles are exercised. It has been found that it’s generally produced at the onset of exercise, but it is no longer believed that it stays in the muscle. The delayed soreness we experience from exercise is therefore not a build-up of lactate, it is the microtears and inflammation response as described above that is giving us that stiff, painful feeling. Does drinking water flush out toxins after a massage? Something I always tell my clients to do and will continue to do because most of us need all the extra H2O we can get! But it’s a myth, it doesn’t help flush out any toxins.
What about knots? Does Massage help with knots?
Well, firstly what is a muscle knot, why does it feel like there are marbles under your skin? People always ask me ‘what is that when I press on a ‘knot’ in the back.
A muscle knot is an area in the muscle that becomes tenser than ‘normal’ muscle tissue. When this area of more tension is chronic it affects the blood flow to the area, which is believed to be causing the pain. After a massage, it is estimated that blood flow to the area of tension is about 3 times greater than before. When the tension is released through the pressure of the massage it helps to reduce the pain felt by the ‘knot’.
Although some scientists believe that the pain is being caused by nerves in the area that are now oversensitive causing pain and other scientists believe that the discomfort is all neuroplastic, it is a learned pain response that is, for want of a better phrase ‘all in your head’.
Unfortunately, muscle knots are very hard to study! Because who wants to have muscle biopsies taken from your muscles in your neck or back! So, the scientists are not 100% sure, they are best guessing it. What we do know is that it feels good!
Research shows that massage does help with the pain of muscle knots. Whether it’s ‘in your head’ or not, it doesn’t matter. It feels good!
Research has also shown that it doesn’t matter what type of massage you get, the benefits are the same, this does depend on what style of massage you like of course. I can’t bare skin polishes, so I get up feeling worse usually, I love a good deep tissue style massage, pressure is key in how well we respond to the massage. Pressure receptors in our nervous system work faster than pain receptors. That’s why it’s our instinct to hold a knee if we’ve bashed it on the side of the bed or rub an elbow if we bang it. And that’s why massage feels good.
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