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I was wondering if massage therapy can help rebuild and gain muscle faster. Or is it just for relaxation? I want to go to a massage center this weekend after a month of training.

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It might.

For the study, researchers put 11 men through a hard bout of exercise. It was the kind of session that was tough to finish and would normally have made an athlete stiff and sore for a few days afterward.

Following their workouts, each man got a 10-minute, Swedish-style massage, but only on one leg. The other leg was rested and used for comparison. Researchers repeatedly sampled muscle tissue from both legs before and after exercise.

They used gene-profiling techniques to look for chemical changes in muscle cells. They saw two main differences between the legs that were massaged and those that were rested.

First, massage switched on genes that decrease inflammation. Many painkilling medications also work by blocking inflammation. Second, massage activated genes that promote the creation of mitochondria, structures that are the energy factories inside cells. The fitter a muscle cell is, the more mitochondria it tends to have.

If you believe what they're saying, there are benefits. Certainly, massage has been shown to help relieve cramping and inflammation. The above-linked research sounds a bit more sketchy with junk science like "switching on genes", so I'm more than a tad skeptical. Similarly, anyone claiming that massage "flushes out toxins" or starts nattering on about "chi meridians" or "reiki" is essentially selling snake oil. If the snake oil helps, that's good, but don't mistake it for science.

A contrasting study found no benefits other than increased relaxation.

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