Thursday, April 10, 2008

Does massage work?

I must admit that I enjoy massage and try to get some work done on my back every couple of weeks either by Colin Gordon at the Edinburgh Physiotherapy Centre or Sheena Livinstone out in West Linton. Both use massage plus Muscle Energy Therapy (MET) to loosen up the tight muscles that plague me, especially my psoas.

While I think a huge amount of back pain is due to stress - I have a lot of sympathy for the teachings of Dr John Sarno - massage can certainly loosen up a tightened muscle.

I spotted this study which sort of bemused me. It notes that massage is relaxing. While that is true, in my experience it is much more than that. It can address specific muscle imbalances, when the length / tension relationships get messed up.

Effects of myofascial release after high-intensity exercise: a randomized clinical trial.

OBJECTIVE: The usefulness of massage as a recovery method after high-intensity exercise has yet to be established. We aimed to investigate the effects of whole-body massage on heart rate variability (HRV) and blood pressure (BP) after repeated high-intensity cycling exercise under controlled and standardized pretest conditions. METHODS: The study included 62 healthy active individuals. After baseline measurements, the subjects performed standardized warm-up exercises followed by three 30-second Wingate tests. After completing the exercise protocol, the subjects were randomly assigned to a massage (myofascial release) or placebo (sham treatment with disconnected ultrasound and magnetotherapy equipment) group for a 40-minute recovery period. Holter recording and BP measurements were taken after exercise protocol and after the intervention. RESULTS: After the exercise protocol, both groups showed a significant decrease in normal-to-normal interval, HRV index, diastolic BP (P > .001), and low-frequency domain values (P = .006). After the recovery period, HRV index (P = .42) and high-frequency (HF) (P = .94) values were similar to baseline levels in the massage group, whereas the HRV index tended (P = .05) to be lower and the HF was significantly (P < .01) lower vs baseline values in the placebo group, which also showed a tendency (P = .06) for HF to be lower than after the exercise. Likewise, diastolic BP returned to baseline levels in the massage group (P = .45) but remained lower in the placebo group (P = .02). CONCLUSION: Myofascial release massage favors the recovery of HRV and diastolic BP after high-intensity exercise (3 Wingate tests) to preexercise levels.


Stephan said...

Hey Chris- I'm thrilled you like Dr. Sarno. His book "Healing Back Pain" pretty much cured my lifelong chronic pain last year. I'm planning a post on chronic pain/psychosomatic medicine but I'm afraid people are going to think I'm off my rocker!

Chris said...


I've been reading Sarno for about 5 years - also Sopher and Amir - and am totally convinced by his argument.

I suppose I am often quite uptight about things and there are various issues / feelings that I really repress. I can usually correlate fairly accurately my chronic back spasms with periods of stress - e.g. leading up to Christmas, relationship issues etc. Once - totally out of character I "cured" a bad spasm by losing my temper with my girlfriend rather than just burying some resentment.

However - I find it all really hard in terms of thinking through the feelings / thinking psychological etc. I think my personality is such that the pain will often be there. I usually recognise that it is not "serious" and am aware of the stress that is causing it. Massage and stretching does help me. I accept that it is treating the symptoms, but so be it.

Good to know there are other Sarno fans out there. Have you read his last book - the Divided Mind - very good.

There are one or two posts on this blog that I think relate to these ideas - tagged with "psychology" or "stress" I think

Stephan said...


I've read The Divided Mind; it was interesting. Reading that book, and also having a neuroscience background, it's amazing how much goes on in our brains that we're not aware of. The sensation of consciousness can be pretty misleading because it gives us the impression that we're aware of everything in our minds. I haven't heard of Sopher and Amir.

I'm also a perfectionist at times, and a "goodist". I'm actually a bit concerned that my new blog will feed that. I agree it's hard to "think psychological" all the time, but it's definitely given me some insights into myself. In the end, your personality is your personality. I think it's good to be aware of it though.

Are you in the UK, I can't remember? One thing I've noticed is that the British seem really repressed. Americans as well, to a lesser extent. In the UK, people are very uncomfortable with physical contact and expressing emotions. They get pent-up and then go drink themselves under the table to let it out. I don't mean to be insulting, it's just something I've noticed. We do it here in the US too. I think that anglo-saxon repression contributes to the chronic pain.

I have a theory that the way one raises an infant has a lot to do with mental health later in life. Hunter-gatherers always had their children on them or sleeping next to them, whereas we put them in cribs in a separate room and give them to strangers during the day. There's some really interesting research in rats showing that maternal affection in infancy causes gene transcription changes in the brain that affect stress resistance later in life. I'll stop here because this comment is way too long, but I'd like to post on it at some point.