A Mechatronic System for Quantitative Application and Assessment of Massage-Like Actions in Small Animals


Massage therapy has a long history and has been widely believed effective in restoring tissue function, relieving pain and stress, and promoting overall well-being. However, the application of massage-like actions and the efficacy of massage are largely based on anecdotal experiences that are difficult to define and measure. This leads to a somewhat limited evidence-based interface of massage therapy with modern medicine. In this study, we introduce a mechatronic device that delivers highly reproducible massage-like mechanical loads to the hind limbs of small animals (rats and rabbits), where various massage-like actions are quantified by the loading parameters (magnitude, frequency and duration) of the compressive and transverse forces on the subject tissues. The effect of massage is measured by the difference in passive viscoelastic properties of the subject tissues before and after mechanical loading, both obtained by the same device. Results show that this device is useful in identifying the loading parameters that are most conducive to a change in tissue mechanical properties, and can determine the range of loading parameters that result in sustained changes in tissue mechanical properties and function. This device presents the first step in our effort for quantifying the application of massage-like actions used clinically and measurement of their efficacy that can readily be combined with various quantitative measures (e.g., active mechanical properties and physiological assays) for determining the therapeutic and mechanistic effects of massage therapies.

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Research reported in the publication was supported by Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Ohio State University and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number RO1AT004922. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Yi Zhao.

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Associate Editor Catherine Disselhorst-Klug oversaw the review of this article.

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Wang, Q., Zeng, H., Best, T.M. et al. A Mechatronic System for Quantitative Application and Assessment of Massage-Like Actions in Small Animals. Ann Biomed Eng 42, 36–49 (2014) doi:10.1007/s10439-013-0886-3

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  • Medical devices
  • Massage therapy
  • Mechanics
  • Viscoelasticity