Why Massage Is Good For You
Wednesday, 24 October 2012
A study reveals that massage causes beneficial hormonal changes
By Scott Douglas
Many runners get occasional massages to deal with specific running-related pains or injuries. Many elites get regular massages as a sort of body maintenance to prevent pain or injury from starting. A new study, to be published in the November/December 2012 issue of Alternative Therapies, found another potential protective benefit of massage: It alters in beneficial ways hormones associated with the immune system and stress.
In the study, researchers in California measured the blood levels of four hormones in 95 people. After the blood was drawn, 65 of the people got a 15-minute moderate-pressure massage of their upper back. The other 30 study participants sat still (and probably wished they were in the other group). Blood was drawn again after the 15-minute massage-or-sit period.
Among the people who got a massage, blood levels of the hormone oxytocin rose an average of 17 per cent from the first to second blood test. Oxytocin levels fells an average of 9 per cent in the non-massage group. Oxytocin is most commonly associated with social bonding – its release has been linked to being touched by people one feels close to. It also, however, is thought to activate the immune system. This could be significant for runners because research has found immune system suppression for up to 24 hours following especially taxing workouts, like hard track sessions or unusually long runs.
Another hormone the researchers measured was adrenocorticotropic, also known as ACTH. It decreased by an average of 6 per cent in the massage group after their 15-minute massage, while it increased by 49 per cent when tested the second time in the non-massage group. ACTH can be released in response to biological stress, and its release is a precursor to elevated cortisol levels. One common marker of overtraining is elevated cortisol levels.
In theory, then, this study supports the idea that a moderate-pressure massage in the day after an especially long or hard run can speed recovery by promoting beneficial hormone levels.
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