Does a massage help relieve sore muscles?

Have you ever tried to improve your health and overdone it? I think that if you want to start exercising or eating healthy, it is good to start out with some zeal. A massage after vigorous exercise unquestionably feels good, and it seems to reduce pain and help muscles recover. Many people — both athletes and health professionals – have long contended it eases inflammation, improves blood flow and reduces muscle tightness. But until now no one has understood why massage has this apparently beneficial effect.

Muscle pain can have a variety of causes. One of the most common causes of muscle pain is exercise. Just about anyone who has exercised has experiences delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) at some point in their life.

DOMS is the intense pain that occurs about a day after you do a workout. Even though it can be extremely painful (or at least in my experience it is), after about a week it goes away. DOMS is an example of temporary muscle pain.

Oftentimes medications and illnesses such as the flu can also cause temporary muscle pain. People can also suffer from chronic muscle pain. Fibromyalgia is an example of a condition that causes chronic widespread muscle pain.

Serious autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and lupus can also cause widespread pain throughout the body. Untreated tension from anxiety and depression can also cause long lasting muscle pain and aches.

Basically, there are a lot of things that can cause sore muscles. It is important to communicate with your doctor so that you can find the most appropriate treatments for your muscle pain. For less serious causes, you may find that a massage is very helpful. Even if you suffer from a serious condition, a massage can serve as a complimentary therapy.

Now researchers have found what happens to muscles when a masseur goes to work on them.

Their experiment required having people exercise to exhaustion and undergo five incisions in their legs in order to obtain muscle tissue for analysis. Despite the hurdles, the scientists still managed to find 11 brave young male volunteers. The study was published in the Feb. 1 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

On a first visit, they biopsied one leg of each subject at rest. At a second session, they had them vigorously exercise on a stationary bicycle for more than an hour until they could go no further. Then they massaged one thigh of each subject for 10 minutes, leaving the other to recover on its own. Immediately after the massage, they biopsied the thigh muscle in each leg again. After allowing another two-and-a-half hours of rest, they did a third biopsy to track the process of muscle injury and repair.

They found that massage reduced the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulated mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair. “The bottom line is that there appears to be a suppression of pathways in inflammation and an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis,” helping the muscle adapt to the demands of increased exercise, said the senior author, Dr. Mark A. Tarnopolsky.

Massages can be most useful for sore muscles if you have soreness from depression or anxiety. People with depression and anxiety don’t just experience mental anguish but are also prone to experience real physical pain such as muscle and joint soreness.

People who suffer from these conditions tend to hold tension in their bodies. In addition, depression and anxiety often have other things happening in the body which can cause pain, such as an increased autoimmune response.

According to a meta analysis of 37 different studies, massages are pretty effective at treating depression and anxiety. With time, it can also help relieve the pain caused from these conditions. But before you do anything, try to find out the cause of the soreness before hopping onto the massage bed.

Check out my related post: Do pets travel?

Interesting reads:


  1. I’m one of those that tend to overdo improving my own health. I just don’t know when to stop and it only takes a bit religion to slow me down. Religion gives clarity though.


  2. I am fortunate enough to live in a place (SoCal) where there is opportunity to do Deep Muscle Thai massages — not for the faint of heart, or those with low pain tolerance, but it works on the fascia — like Rolfing. Not relaxing but definitely helps release toxins both physical and emotional– especially long-term physical issues and deeply seated emotions. Relaxing massage I would agree is very, very helpful for relaxing the mind. A combination if you can afford it– one at one session, then a couple weeks later, the other, would be fantastic for all parts of the human condition. I am lucky if I can afford one monthly, but so worth it.


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