Massage therapy combined with active and passive stretching has been proposed as a potential adjunctive 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 do not cure the condition permanently, but it may affect progression (Larocerie-Salgado et al. 2012 , Christie et al. 2012). These observations support the investigation of massage therapy as an adjunctive treatment strategy for Dupuytren's disease. This post is a brief look at related research, ideally it will serve as a starting point - providing massage therapists and researchers some points of considerations.
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 (Bouffard et al. 2008, 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 (Bishop et al. 2015, Bialosky et al. 2009, Vigotsky et al. 2015). Physiological, psychological, and sociological factors interplay in a complex manner, there are a number of possible ways that massage treatments may trigger neuroimmune responses at both the peripheral and central levels.
Massage therapy as a adjunctive 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 ROM.
More to Explore
- Dr. David O'Gorman "The extracellular matrix"
- Drs. Ilse Degreef and Annelien Brauns "RCT Tension versus compression"
- Dr. Jagdeep Nanchahal "TNF as a therapeutic target"
- Dr. Jagdeep Nanchahal "Debate: Contracture in Dupuytren is Active"
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