Massage doesn’t just make muscles feel better, it makes them heal faster and stronger
Massage has been used to treat sore, injured muscles for more than 3,000 years, and today many athletes swear by massage guns to rehabilitate their bodies. But other than making people feel good, do these “mechanotherapies” actually improve healing after severe injury? According to a new study from researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the answer is “yes.”
Using a custom-designed robotic system to deliver consistent and tunable compressive forces to mice’s leg muscles, the team found that this mechanical loading (ML) rapidly clears immune cells called neutrophils out of severely injured muscle tissue. This process also removed inflammatory cytokines released by neutrophils from the muscles, enhancing the process of muscle fiber regeneration. The research is published in Science Translational Medicine.
“Lots of people have been trying to study the beneficial effects of massage and other mechanotherapies on the body, but up to this point it hadn’t been done in a systematic, reproducible way. Our work shows a very clear connection between mechanical stimulation and immune function. This has promise for regenerating a wide variety of tissues including bone, tendon, hair, and skin, and can also be used in patients with diseases that prevent the use of drug-based interventions,” said first author Bo Ri Seo, Ph.D., who is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Core Faculty member Dave Mooney, Ph.D. at the Wyss Institute and SEAS.