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12-09-2011 | Article

Physiologic benefits of massage on muscular complaints identified


Free abstract

MedWire News: Study findings indicate that therapeutic massage (TM) has a positive physiologic impact on muscle health.

Indeed, "therapeutic massage of the neck and shoulders of healthy participants resulted in a reduction of the α-motoneurone pool excitability of the flexor carpi radialis (FCR), decreases in the normalized electromyograph (EMG) amplitude during maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) of the upper trapezius muscle, and increases in cervical range of motion (ROM) in all directions assessed after TM," say the authors.

They add that this identification of the physiologic processes that underlie the commonly reported clinical benefits of TM will increase overall understanding of the importance of TM, and will also help in the development of therapeutic targets for future musculoskeletal therapies.

The study, conducted by JoEllen Sefton (Auburn University, Alabama, USA) and colleagues assessed the effect of a 20-minute neck and shoulder TM session on segmental spinal reflex modulation, muscle activity, and cervical ROM in 16 individuals with a mean age of 21 years and no history of musculoskeletal conditions.

All participants received 20 minutes of TM, light touch, and control therapy. Control therapy was defined as a 20-minute rest in a supine position on a table with no contact made by a massage therapist. Light touch therapy consisted of light pressure-free touch on the neck and shoulder muscle groups. TM consisted of the application of massage strokes to neck and shoulder muscle groups.

As reported in the journal Manual Therapy, reflexes in the lower trapezius muscle, which indicate motor neurone excitability in the FCR, were measured before and after each intervention. EMG results and cervical ROM were also assessed at these times.

No significant change was observed in FCR α-motoneurone pool excitability, cervical ROM, and EMG amplitude after the light touch and control interventions. However, TM significantly altered these measures of muscle activity.

Furthermore, TM produced changes in α-motoneurone pool activation in muscles located in parts of the body not directly receiving massage.

This, say the researchers, "suggests the TM intervention produced a centralized effect on the nervous system resulting in a modulation of spinal cord response."

Sefton and team conclude that further study into the effect of TM on muscle activity is required and may increase physicians' appreciation of the role of TM in musculoskeletal therapy programs.

By Lauretta Ihonor