Little is known regarding the physiological and clinical effects of therapeutic massage (TM) even though it is often prescribed for musculoskeletal complaints such as chronic neck pain. This study investigated the influence of a standardized clinical neck/shoulder TM intervention on physiological measures assessing α-motoneurone pool excitability, muscle activity; and the clinical measure of range of motion (ROM) compared to a light touch and control intervention. Flexor carpi radialis (FCR) α-motoneurone pool excitability (Hoffmann reflex), electromyography (EMG) signal amplitude of the upper trapezius during maximal muscle activity, and cervical ROM were used to assess possible physiological changes and clinical effects of TM. Sixteen healthy adults participated in three, 20 min interventions: control (C), light touch (LT) and therapeutic massage (TM). Analysis of Covariance indicated a decrease in FCR α-motoneurone pool excitability after TM, compared to both the LT (p = 0.0003) or C (p = 0.0007) interventions. EMG signal amplitude decreased after TM by 13% (p < 0.0001), when compared to the control, and 12% (p < 0.0001) as compared to LT intervention. The TM intervention produced increases in cervical ROM in all directions assessed: flexion (p < 0.0001), lateral flexion (p < 0.0001), extension (p < 0.0001), and rotation (p < 0.0001). TM of the neck/shoulders reduced the α-motoneurone pool excitability of the flexor carpi radialis after TM, but not after the LT or C interventions. Moreover, decreases in the normalized EMG amplitude during MVIC of the upper trapezius muscle; and increases in cervical ROM in all directions assessed occurred after TM, but not after the LT or C interventions.
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