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Biological Chemistry

Massage Therapy’s Molecular Benefits

Muscle manipulation decreases inflammation and increases production of energy-producing molecules, a study suggests

by Lauren K. Wolf
February 6, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 6

Massage therapy to treat pain and stress now has some molecular evidence to back up its oft-touted benefits, according to a report (Sci. Transl. Med., DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002882). A research team led by Mark A. Tarnopolsky of Canada’s McMaster University carried out muscle biopsies on men before and after they exercised and with and without massage treatment. Using genome profiling of the biopsied samples, the researchers isolated two molecular pathways affected by massage. One pathway, involved in cellular inflammation and regulated by the protein NF-κB, was repressed. The other pathway, mediated by the protein PGC-1α, which controls the production of energy-generating mitochondria, was upregulated. With their data, the researchers also refute the notion that massage flushes out muscle toxins such as lactic acid: They saw no change in the level of lactic acid before and after therapy. Although these findings are still preliminary, Tarnopolsky says, they might eventually lead to better treatment of patients with muscle strain and inflammation.


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