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Swedish Study: Sports Massage Doesn't Help After Workouts

Sept. 23, 2004 -- Getting a massage after a hard workout may feel good, but it may not help your body recover faster, according to a Swedish study.

More and more athletes are requesting massages after competition. They are thought to reduce muscle soreness associated with intense exercise and are believed to aid in the recovery of strength and athletic performance.

The benefits of sports massage, in which muscles are kneaded harder than regular massage, were recently tested by Sven Jönhagen, MD, of the Institutionen Södersjukhuset in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues.

The researchers recruited 16 healthy volunteers -- eight men and eight women -- aged 20-38. All participants were recreational athletes who exercised two or three times per week.

In the study, participants worked out for 30 minutes, giving their leg muscles intense eccentric exercise, which emphasizes extending muscles, not contracting them.

Within 10 minutes after their workout, each volunteer got sports massage on only one leg. The massages were performed by an experienced sports physical therapist. A light massage was performed for four minutes followed by a deep, kneading massage for eight minutes. This was repeated once a day for the next two days.

No Advantage Seen

Researchers saw no signs that sports massage helped in post-workout recovery.

Strength tests taken before, directly after, and two days following the exercise session had similar results for the massaged and unmassaged legs.

Both legs were sore for roughly the same length of time, the participants reported.

When asked to do one-legged long jumps after their workout to compare leg function, participants had an equally hard time jumping on either leg.

Finally, researchers measured hormones that the body releases as part of its chemical response to pain.

Levels of the two peptides in participants' quadriceps were low and similar for the treated and untreated legs.

"We did not find that sports massage of the quadriceps muscles had any effect on the local recovery after hard eccentric exercise," write the researchers.

"Nor did we find any effect on the pain and soreness that normally follow this kind of exercise."

However, the researchers say sports massage may have other benefits not addressed in this study and that elite athletes may have different results.

The study appears in the September issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

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