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There was a recent article http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/phys-ed-does-massage-help-... in the NY Times where associate professor, Michael Tschakovsky
performed a study to answer this question: “Does massage increase blood
flow to muscle and/or reduce the quantity of lactic acid after
treatment?" His specialty is the study of blood flow to muscles,
particularly in diseases like diabetes by the way.
I love science. I love testing things so this type of study I think is
perfect. It’s not trying to determine too much at one time. So, it’s not
the type of test that is trying to determine, “Does massage make people
feel better or reduce depression or improve our ability to endure
stress.” See, those types of tests are very vague not to mention bias.
Those things are very hard to determine because it’s very relative to
each individual and seeing we are all so diverse… and so on. Here what
we have is a smart professor who was curious about if massage was doing
what many massage therapist say their hands-on work does.
Regardless of the benefits or effects of increasing blood flow or
reducing lactic acid, they are simply testing if massaging a body right
after bringing a muscle to total fatigue does either. It’s not
dismissing that massage has benefits of some nature and in the article
even Tschakovsky says he gets a massage frequently regardless of what
his study shows.
So basically how they performed the study is they had 12 dudes squeeze a
handgrip repeatedly, putting their forearm to exhaustion and then put a
catheter into a deep vein that “drains” the muscle to test lactic acid
build up and viewed blood flow with an ultrasound machine.
You would think that massaging a muscle right after doing strenuous
muscular exercise would increase blood flow to the muscle, help improve
muscle performance and strength. But if you think about it, if you
squeeze your arm, do you think your squeeze increased or decreases blood
flow? The answer is, it decreases blood flow and that’s just what
Tschakovsky found. Think about it. You squeeze a body part, blood flow
will be pushed away from where you are squeezing, at least for a moment.
As for lactic acid, it has been widely thought of as the “waste” that
is created during excessive muscle contraction that inhibits muscles
from efficiently firing in a consistent way. Fatigue sets in and
ultimately your body goes to failure.
However, the lactic acid is understood as a chemical reaction that
actually provides an entirely different function in my field of
expertise. The production of lactic acid is a good thing. After
movement, lactic acid is actually reabsorbed and used as fuel that
muscles absorb to regenerate and return to efficient function. So
removing it in the first place doesn’t sound like something you want to
do anyway… and of course they also found that massage decreases muscle
absorption of lactic acid, which is totally contradictory to many
massage therapists beliefs. I of course am not a massage therapist so I
am not surprised at the finding but hey, to my massage lovers, it’s okay
that it’s not improving muscle absorption of lactic acid because it
feels sooo good!
Last month I wrote a blog about DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
and linked to an article where new science is proposing DOMS is actually
CAUSED by an adaptation in the CONNECTIVE TISSUE and the ache you feel
24-48 hours after strenuous activity is caused by that adaptation. The
fatigue or damage is in the connective tissue, the muscle cell
adaptation is relatively unnoted and lactic acid is NOT what makes you
feel sore a day or two after exercise. So let’s not be too bummed about
the fact that right after muscle use massage doesn’t eliminate lactic
acid or help with it’s absorption into muscle.
Because, here’s the thing… who in the heck is getting a massage between
sets of bench press or push-ups anyway? Will these findings stop you
from getting a massage? Did it stop the professor? Nope. And even his
wife told him not to cancel her appointment for her massage.
No one is saying that getting a massage the day after you do a serious
leg day at the gym and have sore muscles isn’t going to make you feel
better. Believe me, it helps. But it’s not because it’s helping your
muscles anyway. And here’s where I must yet again put in my two cents.
What I would love to see is SOMEONE in the US actually do a study on
CONNECTIVE TISSUE and what affects massage has on this tissue. Also what
happens when the connective tissue is dehydrated and adhered or less
extensible than it should be for optimal movement efficiency which IS
happening in everyday living!
In any event, it’s a relevant article, and I’d love to sit with the
professor and see if we could elaborate on his findings and sway him to
do his next study on something even more important. The behavior of
connective tissue after massage. Go science!
For those of you like me who want more info on the science part and actually like reading the abstracts, check out the actual study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19997015