As a massage therapist in a busy physical therapy office, I occasionally see patients with recent injuries or surgery to a hand, leg, foot or arm, and they ask me how long it will take until I can safely massage directly on the injured body part, increasing circulation, promoting muscle growth, and decreasing fascial restrictions. This is especially true in the case of an immobilizing injury where a cast prevents body contact for six weeks or longer. However, the benefits of massage can start immediately — patients are usually surprised to hear about the "cross-over effect" of working on the uninjured (contralateral) side having significant benefits to even immobilized limbs, as outlined in a 2017 study in the Journal of Physiology. Researchers from Colorado State University and the University of Kentucky found that immobilized laboratory rats showed an 18% improvement in leg muscle growth when regular massage was applied; and here was the surprise: Even in the leg that was not massaged they noted a 17% improvement in muscle growth!
A very good summary of the study, in layman's terms, can be found on Dr. Joe Muscolino's blog on the Art and Science of Kinesiology website. He outlines the implications for the study not just specifically for acute injuries, but also for preventing muscle loss associated with aging.
I love to have the opportunity to educate patients on human physiology and the mechanics of massage, and I have always felt that I'm not a healer, I'm a facilitator — the healing comes from within the patient, and all I do is figure out a way to unlock their own path to wellness. The human body's capacity to return to homeostasis — a state of balanced health — never ceases to amaze me, and the "cross-over effect" is just one more example we can put in our educational toolbox to explain our methods to our patients.
If you would like to schedule a massage therapy session with Kari in our downtown Eugene location, please give us a call at 541-505-8180.