Massaging after exercise allows muscles to recover faster

Massaging after exercise allows muscles to recover faster

Massage after sports not only has a relaxing effect. According to a recent Harvard study, massage heals muscles faster and makes them stronger over time. This applies to minor and serious injuries.

Massage has been used to treat affected muscle pain for over 3000 years. Today, many athletes swear by using massage guns to rehabilitate their bodies. Harvard researchers have discovered the biological mechanism behind the healing power of massage. Mechanical movements “expel” inflammatory cells from muscle tissue. Scientists now hope their discoveries will help regenerate bones, tendons, hair and skin without the use of drugs in the future.

How Massage Heals Muscles

“Several researchers have attempted to investigate the beneficial effects of massage and other so-called mechanical therapies on the body, which previously seemed impossible,” explains study leader Bo Ri Seo in the university’s announcement.1 “Our work now shows a very clear relationship between mechanical stimulation and immune function.” Seo and her team were able to determine that mechanical stress such as massage rapidly removes immune cells, so-called neutrophils, from injured muscle tissue. This process also eliminates inflammatory cytokines, which promotes the regeneration of muscle fibers. The full research report was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.2

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The muscles of mice are treated with special massage robots

Seo and her co-authors began investigating the effects several years agoThey studied mechanical treatments on injured tissues in mice and found that the rate of muscle regeneration doubled and tissue scarring decreased over the course of two weeks. This gave scientists the idea to develop a special small massage robot for mice. He was able to accurately observe the force exerted on the limbs. Here, too, after 14 days, it appeared again: the higher the force applied during treatment, the better the injured muscle healed. But how exactly does that happen?

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Massage significantly reduces sore muscles

To get a little closer to the answer, the scientists also analyzed the reduced inflammation of the affected muscle tissue. These include factors known as cytokines and chemokines. These were “significantly lower” after just three days of massage therapy. Treated muscle also contains fewer neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. Neutrophils are known to kill and remove pathogens and damaged tissue. In this study, we determined its direct effects on muscle cell behavior,” said co-author Stephanie McNamara.

To make absolutely sure that the massage did indeed remove the inflammation, the team injected fluorescent particles into the muscles of the treated mice. In fact, mechanical action alone was able to “knock out” cytokines and neutrophils. McNamara explains, “While the inflammatory response is important for regeneration in the early stages of recovery, it is equally important for the inflammation to disappear quickly so that regeneration processes can take their full course.”

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Medical breakthrough to diagnose and treat other diseases?

For the Harvard researchers, their findings are quite remarkable. Because it suggests again that we can influence our body’s immune system in a drug-free and non-invasive way (keyword: activating self-healing powers). “The idea that mechanics influence cell and tissue function has been derided over the past few decades,” the scientists said. In fact, there appears to be huge potential behind this, so that other tissue injuries can be healed in this way in the future.

With that in mind, treat yourself to a massage now and then—especially after sports. The relaxing and calming effect appears to be just one of the many positive health effects on the body and psyche.


  1. Brownell, L (2021). Harvard School of Engineering. Massaging not only makes the muscles feel better, it also makes them heal faster and stronger. Harvard College of Engineering
  2. Seo, B. R., Payne, C. J., McNamara, S. L. et al. (2021). Skeletal muscle regeneration by automation-mediated neutrophil clearance. traditional science medIMovies

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