There is a paucity of scientific data on massage therapy (Lovas et al. 2002). The few studies performed using objective measurements have methodological flaws. Scientific evidence currently does not support nor refute claims made by massage advocates. Although many studies find that massage may be beneficial, researchers also discuss the lack of objective measures and scant evidenced based aspects of massage therapy and state that further investigation is required (Oppel 2000; Sedergreen 2000; Preyde 2000). Fontanarosa and Lundberg (1998) discuss the need for convincing data on safety and therapeutic efficacy and comment on problems with methodological quality in previous research. Tiidus (2000) noted that there is virtually no scientific information available on equine massage. His own studies on humans with DOMS found that massage does not alter whole limb blood flow. Importantly however, he used a Doppler ultrasound technique that did not measure localized blood flow specific to one muscle being massaged, and therefore failed to isolate the effect of massage. Ernst’s (1998) meta-analysis on massage therapy found that most of the research conducted to date had serious methodological flaws resulting in conflicting results. However, his conclusion was that most research suggests that post-exercise massage may alleviate symptoms of DOMS.
Increased blood flow to injured tissue provides oxygen and nutrients and removes breakdown products from the muscle (Newman 2002; McAllister 1995). However, attempts to demonstrate increased skeletal muscle blood flow during local skeletal muscle injury have failed primarily due to methodological errors because whole limb measurements have been made during the study of localized tissue responses. Whole limb measurement techniques lack sensitivity in the studies examining the effects of massage on muscle injury. MT validation for healing tissue requires measuring localized blood flow change to the muscle being massaged.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) peaks 24 to 48-hours following unaccustomed exercise (Vickers 2001). DOMS is due to the physical and biochemical muscle fiber degradation that occurs during and after the activity and is followed by a two to three-week repair period. During the repair phase there is a proliferation of myogenic stem cells and increased stem cell activation resulting in the differentiation of new muscle fibers. Massage therapy (MT) is an accepted and used primary treatment option for DOMS. However, MT lacks validity as a medical modality because its effects have yet to be scientifically established.
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