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Massage Today
December, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 12

Samples From the Research Stream

By Keith Eric Grant, PhD, NCTMB

In monitoring water chemistry and quality, hydrologists often dip into the flow of a river or stream, collecting samples. Similarly, I've been sampling from the stream of recent research in several areas.

First, I want to touch on a couple of samples specific to massage and exercise.

A news release from Ohio State University suggests compressive massage has a positive effect on post-exercise tissue recovery.2 The report notes, "The muscles in animals receiving simulated massage had improved function, less swelling and fewer signs of inflammation than did muscles in the animals that received no massage treatment after exercise." Recovery of muscle strength was also greater. The importance of the research is that it starts to reveal a cellular basis for the positive effects of massage, even though the exact mechanism of how the changes occur is not yet known.

On Tuesdays, The New York Times publishes "The Science Times," which spotlights breaking science news. Among the stories they caught from the forefront of research on exercise physiology was one advancing knowledge on how muscles fatigue: "A popular theory, that muscles become tired because they release lactic acid, was discredited not long ago. ... [The report] says the problem is calcium flow inside muscle cells. Ordinarily, ebbs and flows of calcium in cells control muscle contractions. But when muscles grow tired, the investigators report, tiny channels in them start leaking calcium, and that weakens contractions. At the same time, the leaked calcium stimulates an enzyme that eats into muscle fibers, contributing to the muscle exhaustion."1

It's long been thought that delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the soreness that occurs 24 to 72 hours following strenuous exercise, was due to microfiber damage resulting in leakage of calcium ions from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Normally, calcium ions are released from the reticulum to initiate muscle fiber contraction and pumped back into it to end contraction. The microdamage would result in leakage, thereby initiating a process of hypertonicity, inflammation and pain-receptor sensitization. The current research pushes this process back in the exercise-recovery cycle as a process of muscle fatigue.

In late October, I attended several days of the annual Science Writers' Conference, jointly put on by the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW). The threads of research I want to sample from the conference change the focus to learning and communication. Among the presenters were Clifford Nass, professor of communication and computer science at Stanford University, and Robert Bloomfield, professor of management at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University. Along with nuances of computer-human interaction, Nass talked about brain neurology. He noted that the upcoming Internet generation are cognitive multi-taskers in a manner never seen before. While hunter-gatherers had to pay attention to multiple signals from their environment, there was a coherence to the different inputs. In contrast, modern multi-taskers pay attention to multiple windows and streams of input that are unrelated to each other. Nass noted that there is no current psychological model for how the young manage multi-tasking, but manage it they do. Moreover, multi-taskers become bored with linear input. It's likely that different neurological use of the brain has physically changed the neurons retained during development. Nass' observations are consistent with observations made by Marc Prensky, who distinguishes between "digital natives" and "digital immigrants."3 There are some profound implications that the learning style of the upcoming generations will be substantially different than for previous generations. To be effective, education and training will have to adapt.

Robert Bloomfield also gave an interesting presentation on the use of the virtual world "Second Life," both for social research and as a place for communicating remotely. As he gave his talk in the "real world," he also was in front of a podium, located on Muse Isle NorthWest in "Second Life," talking to about 15 virtual listeners. Bloomfield characterized "Second Life" as providing "people, time and tools" for research and communication. As an economist, he was interested in the banking failures that occurred in "Second Life," as a means of seeing real people responding to a simpler economic situation than exists in the real world. As a means of communicating remotely, Bloomfield noted that "Second Life" provides a sense of place. The visual view can emulate locations in the real world known to participants. Those attending a virtual conference have access to audio, visual presentations and texting. Via texting, different subgroups of participants can spin off side discussion with little impact to others. While it would be more difficult to teach a kinesthetic "vocabulary" via such means, "Second Life" could provide a rich environment for conceptual learning and for viewing and discussing videos of technique demonstration. While I don't expect virtual massage clients to exist anytime soon, the world of learning and communicating continues to evolve and change.


  1. Kolata G. Finding may solve riddle of fatigue in muscles. TheNew York Times, Feb. 12, 2008.
  2. Massaging muscles facilitates recovery after exercise. Science Daily, Aug. 18, 2008.
  3. Marc Prensky.

Click here for previous articles by Keith Eric Grant, PhD, NCTMB.


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