Massage Doesn't Speed Muscle Recovery
Study suggests massage after exercise may hinder recovery
Aug. 19, 2004 -- In addition to the thousands of athletes, coaches, and
trainers who are making the Olympics happen in Athens this week, 100 volunteer
massage therapists are on hand to knead the knots from bodies pushed to the
limit. It is widely believed in sports medicine circles that massage helps
muscles recover faster after intense exercise, but new findings from the U.K.
do not support the theory.
Investigators found that massages done after exercise did not increase the
blood flow to muscles, which is associated with enhanced muscle recovery.
However, massages did increase blood flow to the skin, suggesting that massage
may actually hinder muscle recovery by diverting blood from the muscles. The
findings are published in the August issue of the journal Medicine &
Science in Sports & Exercise.
These results question the effectiveness of massage after exercise on
muscles in the recovery process from a physiological perspective, write lead
researcher Tessa Hinds, BSc, and colleagues from Manchester Metropolitan
But Hinds is quick to point out that the findings do not mean that
therapeutic massage is harmful or of no benefit to competitive athletes. She
tells WebMD that the increased blood flow to the skin during massage probably
does not affect muscle recovery and that there has been little research into
the psychological benefits of massage in the athletic arena.
"The message is certainly not that massage has no place (in sports
medicine)," she tells WebMD. "Nobody has really looked at issues like
endorphin release and other endpoints suggesting a psychological benefit. We
all know how we feel after we have a massage. We feel wonderful, and that could
certainly translate into improved performance."
Physical therapy professor Lynn Millar, PhD, agrees. Millar tells WebMD that
in several studies measuring delayed onset muscle soreness, massage after
exercise was associated with a decrease in perceived pain.
Millar, who is a spokeswoman for the American College of Sports Medicine,
says the fact that the study participants were given massages immediately after
exercise could explain the failure to find a blood flow benefit.
"Blood flow can remain elevated for 30 minutes or more after exercise,
so you wouldn't expect to see big changes with massage," she says. "But
there has been some suggestion of a recovery benefit among athletes who have
massages one or two hours after exertion."
Later Is Better
In a 1994 study, a 30-minute massage immediately after exercise had no
impact on recovery, but muscle soreness was reduced significantly when
administered two to six hours later.
Millar recommends that elite athletes and weekend warriors wait an hour or
two after exercising before having a massage.
Ron Percht, who is communications director for the American Massage Therapy
Association, tells WebMD that more studies are needed on the impact of
therapeutic massage on athletic performance. The AMTA represents some 50,000
massage therapists from 27 countries.
"This study was testing a theory as to why massage may provide benefit,
and the theory wasn't borne out," he says. "But that doesn't mean that
massage isn't beneficial. It just means they haven't found out why or