The Scientific Benefits of Bodywork


Bodywork, or more commonly known as massage, undoubtedly makes you feel better.  Doesn't everyone love to get a massage?  But do you know why you relish in the afterglow of a good rub down?  I’m going to explain the physiological benefits of massage.


When muscles are sore, there is inflammation due to some sort of injury, irritation or infection.  Inflammation is the body’s way of starting to heal itself.  It increases the blood supply to the area making it swell, turn red and often give off heat.  But inflammation can be present without any visible symptoms, such as the micro-tears that occur from intense exercise.  Recently researchers took actual muscle biopsies from several willing participants to see if there are any physiological advantages from massage after an extremely difficult workout.  It went as such:

Gather muscle fibers from both legs at rest; vigorous exercise on a stationary bike to maximal output (until the participants could no longer push themselves, roughly just over an hour); biopsy of both legs after exercise; massage one leg while the other rests on its own for 10 minutes; biopsy both legs; rest both legs for 2.5 hours then gather more muscle fiber for testing.


What researchers found from the biopsy of the massaged leg, was the protein compounds that boost inflammation are suppressed.  And cell reparation is enhanced.  The cells recovered faster and the healing process started sooner.  Not only is the blood flow increased to help reduce inflammation, but it also reduces stiffness and tightness in the muscles as well.  The immediate massage after exercise actually helped muscles adapt for the increased workload.  For a lot of athletes this is extremely important (especially if they’re getting paid to play!), so they don’t lose precious training time due to pain, stiffness or inflammation.


Most of us have worked out or participated in a recreational sport to a level in which the next day, or several following days, our muscles were sore and or stiff.  That sore feeling is the non-visible inflammation that I previously described.  To ease the pain, one could simply take an NSAID – Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug (Ibuprofen, Advil, Tylenol, etc).  Yes these will reduce inflammation, but in exchange you might end up with an upset stomach, heartburn, ulcers or skin rashes.  There is also the theory that such drugs have a maladaptive response when consistently taken to reduce inflammation.


Who, regardless of athletic achievements, wants to be hurting anyway?  It’s natural for all living creatures to move away from pain.  It’s one of our built-in survival instincts!