This research group previously published a study analyzing the entire genome and the effect of exercise on human gene expression. They followed up with research focusing on the Quadriceps (vastus lateralis), having 11 young men exercise intensely, based on their personal VO2 peak. After they were no longer able to maintain a high intensity workout, biopsies were analyzed from the quadriceps.

Samples were taken before exercise, 10 minutes after bodywork, and 2.5 hours after bodywork. Only one leg was worked in each patient, creating a control group of the other leg.

The techniques used come from the library of deep tissue massage, and each treatment lasted only 10 minutes.


The gene Filamin B, β, is a functional part of actin dynamics – according to Sliding Filament Theory, actin and myosin pairs are the molecular basis for the ability of muscle cells to contract. The expression of nucleoporin was also increased, suggesting that massage altered processes related to inflammation and the cytoskeleton.

At 2.5 hours after massage, but not immediately following, the team found increased expression in genes COX7B and ND1 mRNA. The amount of PGC-1α was also elevated, leading researchers to conclude that massage therapy increases signaling of mitochondrial biogenesis. Massaged cells can better produce mitochondria, promoting faster recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage.

Interestingly, massage did not help clear lactic acid from tired tissues, despite how often this idea is repeated in the streets.

NFkB plays a critical role in muscle inflammation and the cellular response to heat stress. Bodywork caused this inflammatory mediator to be less abundant, creating a cascade of beneficial effects. Bodywork quickened recovery of NFkB to normal levels, although both the treated and untreated leg were even 2.5 hours after receiving treatment.

 from the authors

One class of analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are some of the most commonly consumed drugs in the world […]. An alternative therapy such as massage may provide similar benefits. Moreover, massage may be useful in situations where areas of low blood flow (the muscle-tendon interface) restrict the access of circulating analgesics to a site of inflammation or in conjunction with other anti-inflammatory treatments.


In summary, our findings suggest that the perceived positive effects of massage are a result of an attenuated production of inflammatory cytokines, which may reduce pain by the same mechanism as conventional anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs.



Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage


This study is available online, as a free access PDF.