Effects of massage: objective research...

Written by Attila Gaspary, 14/Dec/2018

Effects of massage: objective research...

A few words about the massage.

Everybody knows what massage means. Almost everyone had received massage at least once in their lifetime. During that massage the emotions and feelings the client experiences has just as important impact on whether one becomes a regular client or not as the results and benefits of the treatment. Those emotions and feelings are strongly influenced by the therapist knowledge and experience but by many other factors too….

One of the greatest benefits of massage that it has dual effect on the client’s wellbeing:
Firstly, it has a physical effect on the client’s body, enhancing the physiological regeneration.
Secondly, it has psychological effect on the client’s mind and soul, influencing the mental and emotional wellbeing.

Sometimes the client is only interested in the “result” and benefits of the massage and not interested in the emotions and feelings caused by the massage at all. However, the relaxational effect during the massage is just as important as the physical effect as it helps to heal the mind and boost the body’s rehabilitating capability. This is the reason why people use massage for a few thousand years.

What research has been done on the use and effect of massage? How were they done? What are the results?

In the past only a few were curious about the effect of massage. For a few thousand years the therapists and people who didn’t believe in it tried to work out how the massages worked. Was it science or faith/magic/miracle?

The easiest way to find out is to find and analyze representative data from cases of clients from the same gender group, at similar age, with similar physical history in activity (sports)…

Galen (Claudius Galenus, lived in ancient Rome at 129 AD – c. 200/c. 216) was a physician for the gladiators. He had to find quick and effective solutions for muscle regeneration as the gladiators needed to fight again and again in the arena with very short resting periods and often serious muscle injuries. (The gladiators were expensive because of the trainings costs. So letting them die in the arena would have been a very costly and lavish practice - unless a few high society, rich people requested to see a "special performance" and paid well for the death of gladiators on scene.) So Galen was a good physician. But we don't know much about his practices, what and how he worked exactly. And in those days I'm sure the healing methods and technics were not separated.

But this is all part of history now. Let’s have a look at the present.

Only a few rehabilitation centers are doing research on the effects of massage. Testing the effect of massage objectively is very difficult for several reasons. How the clients feel after the massage influences the response they give. But understandingly the client’s response is very subjective after the massage: "I'm feeling better, less pain, more flexible..." But we don't know exactly the rate of the improvement. Flexibility is an exception... that can be checked and measured by the massage therapist. Moving forward, somehow we need more objective feedback and response that all can be measured accurately and can be accepted by all health professionals.

Some scientist wanted a truly objective research on massage. To do that they needed to analyze representative data from clients in the same gender group, at similar age, with similar physical history in activity (sports). So, needed huge number of clients, who received massage and agreed to be examined to have the effect of massage checked. Finding a big group of people from the same age group, with same physical history in activity (sports), with similar/same health status is very hard. Same, same, same... If we compare 2 people, they will be different and form the point of research it is a huge problem.

But Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky and his team had a brilliant idea: find individuals with 2 legs. (Same ages, same sports style, same condition, same, same, same...)

A muscle biopsy was done before the test. It represented the original state. After the clients had to cycle as far as they could on the indoor bicycle. When the clients reached the point of final exhaustion, then the doctors did another biopsy again. Following that, the clients got a massage only on one leg for 10 minutes by the same therapist. The final step of the research was another biopsy on both legs. They had recruited for the research 11 young male volunteers.

Everything was under scientific terms. Same time on the bicycle, same time to rest and same waiting time before massage, same length of massage… The accuracy of these were important for comparing the data and analyzing the results scientifically. Well, a group of 11 people is not enough for the data to be considered significant. (We would need at least 100 people, but people don’t particularly like the muscle biopsy so it is not easy to find volunteers.)

Then the doctors discovered and find a proof, how the massage can improve the healing system. Massage reduces the inflammation (level of cytokine) and stimulates the mitochondria which reduces the inflammation and in the same time increases the metabolism and functions of the body’s healing and restoring system. This was the first time (in 2012) that the benefits of massage got scientific proof. Never before…

In the future the methods of scientific research definitely will improve. Maybe one day (hopefully in the near future), the massage therapists and doctors can work together on exploring how the massage truly works. Maybe the time will come when we can put a client and a master therapist in the special MRI and we can watch how the blood and lymph is flowing, how the muscles or fascia are stretching or how the tissues are changing. Everything what only happens at cellular level. That would be a miracle…


The objective massage research is a young science. For several thousand years it was mostly just based on subjective experience. But we have less clinical evidences. In many countries, massage is part of the National Health System and in many unfortunately it isn’t. In many countries, the education level of massage is at very high level. In those countries the key and leading people in massage therapy are able to share more and more experience and evidence of research. Possibly by sharing their resources they could do special and more advanced level researches together. For example, checking the massage strokes under the MRI machine and we can analyze and measure exactly the effects of the massage in the tissues…