12 October 2021

A laying on of hands that actually works

The Back Page

Massage doesn’t just make injured muscles feel better, it also strengthens them by clearing out unhelpful immune cells, new research suggests.

Medical science is full of awful things being done to mice, so The Back Page – the only zone of TMR where mice studies even get a look-in – was somewhat pleased to see a study out of Harvard in which mice were given massages.

Your BP correspondent remembers the days when massage seemed like a creepy and pointless encounter, but that was before she’d spent a couple of decades hunched over a computer and then finished her shoulders off by painting the house as a lockdown project. These days a pair of strong and willing thumbs occupies a much higher shelf in the “Wants” section of the brain.

For these mice, of course, it wasn’t exactly a day spa setting, with barely a scented candle in sight.

What, no rose petals?

And they had to injure the tissue first. But if you’re a lab mouse this probably still counts as a good day.

The researchers designed the robot masseur pictured above to apply an adjustable compressive force to leg muscles, measuring the tissue strain via ultrasound, and examined the effects on muscle regrowth and immune activity.

Massaged tissues were seen to repair and recover strength faster than unmassaged ones, and contained more of the type IIX fast-twitch fibres that support fast, powerful movements.

The team also observed that the massaged tissues contained far fewer neutrophils and inflammatory cytokines.

In an accompanying in vitro study they grew muscle progenitor cells in a medium that had previously contained neutrophils, and found they differentiated more slowly, suggesting that factors secreted by neutrophils impede the generation of muscle fibres.

So while they are important for clearing out pathogens and damaged tissue, inflammation should be quickly resolved to promote healing, the authors said.

What The Back Page also takes away from the study is that those scientists should treat their mice well if they don’t want a musclebound murine mutiny on their hands:

… and that partners who refuse to give you massages are bad for your health.

If you see a story in need of some compressive force, squeak at felicity@medicalrepublic.com.au

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