Massage therapy combined with active and passive stretching has been proposed as a potential adjunct treatment for attenuating Dupuytren's disease (DD) progression and recurrence. Dupuytren's disease is a progressive disorder of the hand that eventually can cause contractures of the affected fingers. The progression of the disease is a complicated process, involving a cascade of molecular and cellular events, in which the cytokine transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) plays a fundamental role (Tripoli et al. 2016).
Studies have demonstrated that non-operative treatments such as massage therapy may affect progression (Larocerie-Salgado et al. 2012, Christie et al. 2012). These observations support the investigation of massage therapy as an adjunct treatment strategy for Dupuytren's disease. This post is a look at related research, providing massage therapists and researchers some points of considerations.
“The results achieved in our patients demonstrate that in the setting of early onset contracture of the PIPJ [proximal interphalangeal joint] due to DD, a relatively simple splinting regimen, combined with stretching exercises and massage to contracted tissue, can stabilize the progression of contracture and in some cases ameliorate the degree of deformity” — Larocerie-Salgado et al. 2012
Massage Therapy - The Science is Emerging
Based on available evidence the mechanisms by which massage therapy interrupts the sequelae of pathological healing is most likely not in a single unified response, but as a collection of interconnected adaptive responses within the nervous system and soft tissue structures.
Attenuating Tissue Levels of TGF-β1
As a therapeutic intervention massage therapy has the potential to attenuate TGF-β1 induced fibroblast to myofibroblast transformation. Recent studies have looked at the effect of modeled massage therapy and mechanical stretching on tissue levels of TGF-β1 (Bove et al. 2016). In these studies it was demonstrated that mechanical stretching has the potential to attenuate tissue levels of TGF-β1 and the development of fibrosis.
This is potentially impactful in the treatment of DD because TGF-β1 plays a key role in tissue remodeling and fibrosis (Tripoli et al. 2016).
Attenuating Tissue Levels of TNF-α
Researchers have also described the pathogenic role that tumour necrosis factor (TNF) plays during the course of Dupuytren disease (Verjee et al. 2013, Kalliolias et al. 2016). High levels of TNF contribute to the contractile activity of myofibroblasts, which drives disease development, in Dupuytren's patients.
A study looking at the use of massage for exercise induced muscle damage (Crane et al. 2012) indicates that massage attenuates the production of tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α). Attenuating tissue levels of TNF-α with massage may play a role in disease development by reducing the contractile activity of myofibroblasts.
Persistent inflammation has the potential to interfere with the remodeling of tissue (Rand et al. 2016). There has been modeled experiments to demonstrate the the impact of stretching on inflammation-regulation mechanisms within connective tissue (Berrueta et al. 2016). Another study suggest that the application of massage induces a phenotype change, prompting the transition of M1 macrophages into the M2 macrophages (Waters-Banker et al. 2014).
Other research papers have looked at the neurophysiological mechanisms elicited by massage therapy treatments. A biopsychosocial model provides a practical framework for investigating the complex interplay between massage therapy and clinical outcomes.
Massage therapy as a adjunct treatment of Dupuytren's disease
Dupuytren's disease is a topic that I follow closely as I have seen second hand the long term effects of this progressive disorder. If these studies are clinically translatable, prophylactic massage treatments may inhibit inflammatory processes and affect the development of fibrosis by mediating differential cytokine production. Consequently this may stabilize the progression of contractures and in some cases ameliorate the degree of deformity.
Massage therapy is simple to carry out, economical, has very few side effects, the next step for researchers is to look into what sort of dosage and duration would be needed to optimize the effects of this non-invasive approach. As an added note I will emphasize that therapists should be familiar with the condition and cross frictioning need not be vigorous and stretching should be a gentle exploration of range of motion.
More to Explore
Ball et al. (2016). Systematic review of non-surgical treatments for early dupuytren's disease. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. (OPEN ACCESS)
Berrueta et al. (2016). Stretching Impacts Inflammation Resolution in Connective Tissue. Journal of Cellular Physiology.
Bochaton-Piallat et al. (2016). The myofibroblast in wound healing and fibrosis: Answered and unanswered questions. F1000Research. (OPEN ACCESS)
Bove et al. (2016). Manual therapy as an effective treatment for fibrosis in a rat model of upper extremity overuse injury. Journal of the Neurological Sciences.
Brauns et al. (2017). A clinical trial of tension and compression orthoses for Dupuytren contractures. J Hand Ther.
Chapman et al. (2016). Skeletal muscle fibroblasts in health and disease. Differentiation. (OPEN ACCESS)
Christie et al. (2012). Cross-frictional therapy and stretching for the treatment of palmar adhesions due to Dupuytren's contracture: a prospective case study. Man Ther.
Freitas et al. (2017). Can chronic stretching change the muscle-tendon mechanical properties? A review. Scand J Med Sci Sports.
Guimberteau et al. (2010). The role and mechanical behavior of the connective tissue in tendon sliding. Chirurgie De La Main.
Hicks et al. (2012). Mechanical strain applied to human fibroblasts differentially regulates skeletal myoblast differentiation. Journal of Applied Physiology.
Huisstede et al. (2018). Effectiveness of conservative, surgical, and post-surgical interventions for Trigger finger, Dupuytren's disease, and De Quervain's disease. A systematic review. Arch Phys Med Rehabil.
Karkampouna et al. (2016). Connective Tissue Degeneration: Mechanisms of Palmar Fascia Degeneration (Dupuytren's Disease). Curr Mol Biol Rep. (OPEN ACCESS)
Kay et al. (2015). Effects of Contract-Relax, Static Stretching, and Isometric Contractions on Muscle-Tendon Mechanics. Med Sci Sports Exerc.
Kay et al. (2016). Stretching of Active Muscle Elicits Chronic Changes in Multiple Strain Risk Factors. Med Sci Sports Exerc.
Kwan & Tredget (2017). Biological Principles of Scar and Contracture. Hand Clin.
Larocerie-Salgado & Davidson (2012). Nonoperative treatment of PIPJ flexion contractures associated with Dupuytren's disease. J Hand Surg Eur.
Liu et al. (2013). Operative trends and physician treatment costs associated with Dupuytren's disease in Canada. Can J Plast Surg. (OPEN ACCESS)
McMillan et al. (2017). Variation in Treatment Recommendations for Dupuytren Disease. J Hand Surg Am.
Mella et al. (2018). Dupuytren's Contracture: An Evidence Based Review. Ann Plast Surg.
Mokos et al. (2017). Current Therapeutic Approach to Hypertrophic Scars. Front Med (Lausanne). (OPEN ACCESS)
Pelletier et al. (2017). The relationship of corticospinal excitability with pain, motor performance and disability in subjects with chronic wrist/hand pain. J Electromyogr Kinesiol.
Rand & Gellhorn (2016). The Healing Cascade: Facilitating and Optimizing the System. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am.
Rayan & Moore (2005). Non-Dupuytren's disease of the palmar fascia. J Hand Surg Br.
Stecco et al. (2016). Fascial Disorders: Implications for Treatment. Pm&r.
Soreide et al. (2018). Treatment of Dupuytren's contracture. Bone Joint J.
Tripoli et al. (2016). Update on the role of molecular factors and fibroblasts in the pathogenesis of Dupuytren's disease. J Cell Commun Signal. (OPEN ACCESS)
Verhoekx, J.S., Mudera, V., Walbeehm, E.T., Hovius, S.E. (2013). Adipose-derived stem cells inhibit the contractile myofibroblast in Dupuytren's disease. Plast Reconstr Surg.
Verjee et al. (2013). Unraveling the signaling pathways promoting fibrosis in Dupuytren's disease reveals TNF as a therapeutic target. PNAS. (OPEN ACCESS)
Viganò et al. (2016). Mesenchymal stem cells as therapeutic target of biophysical stimulation for the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. J Orthop Surg Res. (OPEN ACCESS)
Waters-Banker et al. (2014). Investigating the Mechanisms of Massage Efficacy: The Role of Mechanical Immunomodulation.Journal of Athletic Training. (OPEN ACCESS)