Massages aren’t just for the stressed mind and body. Their benefits can also extend to intentionally stressed muscles. New research from Harvard suggests that incorporating massage after muscular activity is a good part of exercise recovery which may actually help them grow stronger.
During exercise, muscles are “stressed” in order to break down the muscle fibers to regrow bigger and stronger. If you’ve hit the gym really hard, you can be sure that there is inflammation occurring at the muscular level when the inflammation process is activated by immune cells flooding the damaged tissues. These immune system cells are neutrophils and clearing them from muscle tissue shortly after exercise was shown to help muscles regenerate faster.
Massage (otherwise known as mechanotherapy) was studied in rodents via a robotic massage unit. Before and after exercise, the muscles were studied in depth, and the research team confirmed that the muscles repaired themselves faster and were stronger directly related to the amount of pressure used during the massages.
The movement of the massage was found to help flush the inflammatory molecules and the neutrophils out of the damaged muscle fibers. Inflammation is integral to the muscle repair process, but it’s only helpful in the beginning stages (the first 72 hours after exercise). After that, it’s better to help the muscles flush out these cells because it leads to a significant amount of muscle regeneration.
Athletes have been using massage after strenuous activity for some time to ease the delayed onset muscle soreness that occurs. Not just for making yourself more comfortable on the days after leg day, fitting in a massage after a hard workout may also help your muscles get stronger, faster!
Bo Ri Seo, Christopher J. Payne, Stephanie L. McNamara, et al. Skeletal muscle regeneration with robotic actuation–mediated clearance of neutrophils. Science Translational Medicine, 2021; 13 (614) DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abe8868