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How the mitochondria have fallen

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The benefits most assigned to post-exercise massage tend to be in two categories: improving circulation and removing lactic acid. We know the body recycles lactic acid (or lactate) through the liver within a few hours of exercise. In terms of improving circulation, we see a change in skin colour where we are working, showing increased circulation at a local point, but again not much in terms of research of return of blood to the heart.

The discoveries being made in recent research papers are starting to show real change in the tissue we are treating and one specific area caught my eye as a sports person - the Mitochondria. These small cells exist within the muscles and are very powerful indeed. For me they are the spark-plugs in our muscles, igniting the fuel to power our sports. The rotate like little generators charging up the batteries (special cells) which then go on to "spark" off the fuel (ATP) within our muscles. The more Mitochondria you have, the more batteries to ignite the fuel. Once this fuel has burnt off, a waste product is produced (similar to your car emissions). The waste is called pyruvic acid and is a precursor to lactate (or commonly termed lactic acid) when there is a lack of oxygen in the muscles pyruvic acid turns to lactate and once you reach your threshold, your muscles are toast.

The other very clever aspect of the Mitochondria is the ability to recycle this waste product in the muscle and produce more ATP (your muscle fuel). Therefore the more Mitochondria you have in your muscles, the more recycling they can do. This means there is less build up of lactate in your muscles and less work for the liver to do (where lactate is recycled) after exercise - just to offer some clarity, your body naturally recycles it's own lactate within a few hours - massage does not rid your body of lactate.

So where does post-exercise massage fit in with Mitochondria, interestingly the research paper demonstrated that the post-exercise massage stimulates a growth factor which could potentially increase the number of Mitochondia in the body (more research needs to be done on this as the data presented was on a very small sample). However, we are starting to point our research in the right direction.

When you watch a pro-cyclist receiving a post-exercise treatment, it is not with an elbow and full body-weight that the therapist is treating, it's light, easy treatment - this is what your muscles will be craving and how the Mitochondria can rise again after exercise, getting you ready for your next bout of hard training or racing.

If you need to know when the best time to receive a massage depending on your own circumstances, we have given some guidance in our FAQs.

The research paper about the Mitochondria is detailed below, in did not have any peer reviews was questioned in the scientific community on the narrow range they reported on. So I wouldn't get too excited about the inflammatory aspect just yet as the markers they looked at were in a narrow range. What caught my eye was the simulation of the growth factor for mitochondria, as a sports person this got me quiet excited, but again more detailed information is needed. Feel free to read the research yourself, however also look at some of the reviews by the scientists on the paper and some of it's short comings.

Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage

  1. Justin D. Crane1,
  2. Daniel I. Ogborn2,
  3. Colleen Cupido1,
  4. Simon Melov3,
  5. Alan Hubbard4,
  6. Jacqueline M. Bourgeois5 and
  7. Mark A. Tarnopolsky1,6,*
Peta McSharry

Peta McSharry is an experienced Sports and Remedial Massage therapist living in London who has been treating clients since 2004 and teaching bodywork since 2006. Her therapy is based on a good grounding in sports along with a structural approach to resolving issues.

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