Rubbing away pain

it's still a mystery why but there is no doubt that massage works. Just ask the rabbits who were used for research into it.

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Two days ago, my husband woke up at 3am with a shooting pain in his side. Since he had done nothing more strenuous than play the ukulele the day before, we knew it wasn't a pulled muscle and immediately took him to the emergency room. He had appendicitis. The hospital released him after the appendectomy to recuperate at home, but then he developed a shooting spasmodic pain in his right shoulder and upper abdomen. When one tensed, the other would spasm. We called a massage therapist for help.

Massage is an effective treatment for sore and exhausted muscles as well as mental stress, post-surgery soreness and illnesses. An ancient Chinese medical text called Huangdi Neijing recommends massage for relief, as does the even older Babylonian medical text, The Diagnostic Handbook, comprising a series of 40 tablets drawn up by the scholar Esagil-kin-apli. One of the muscles that massage therapists typically focus on is the sternocleidomastoid, which runs from the corner of the jaw down to the collar bone. It is the muscle that rotates and tilts the head and neck. It also assists to raise the sternum and helps respiration. Nerves impinged in this area can trigger pain in other "referral" areas, even as far as the upper abdomen or hands and fingers. According to the massage therapist, it appeared that there was a pinched nerve from the position that my husband had been put in for the operation, which linked the sternocleidomastoid with an area just above his liver.

Massage is an effective way to deactivate pain triggers by stretching the contracted muscle fibres of trigger points. It may also stimulate local circulation, though a recent study calls this into doubt. A common rationale for using massage after exercise is that it assists in the removal of lactic acid in the muscle by improving circulation. However, a study by researchers at Queens University presented at the American College of Sports Medicine conference in May found that massage actually impairs the flow of blood to the muscle after exercise, and therefore also slows the removal of lactic acid.

On the other hand, a study from August 2008 shows that massage after exercise does improve recovery times - in animals at least. Rabbits were exercised over four days, and half received a massage immediately after. The massaged rabbits recovered about 60 per cent of their muscle strength; the rabbits that were left to rest recovered 14 per cent of their strength. The massaged rabbits showed less damage to the muscle fibres.

It's still a mystery how exactly massage works. But it does. After an hour of strategic rubbing and pressing my husband uncurled his body and looked normal for the first time in two days.