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Massage After Exercise May Speed Muscle Recovery

Study Finds Sports Massage Has a Positive Effect


Updated June 18, 2014

Sports Massage

Sports Massage

Wendy Bumgardner ©

Does sports massage after intense exercise speed muscle recovery? While athletes of every kind use sports massage, the hard research into whether and how it works has been sparse. But a 2008 study by Ohio State University researchers found evidence that Swedish massage improved the time it took for the muscle to recover and the massaged muscles had less damage and less evidence of swelling and inflammation.

Massage Study Tests Muscle Recovery

The four-day study was performed on rabbits rather than humans. They were sedated and their muscles put through simulated exercise. The test group of rabbits then received simulated massage while a control group didn't get massage. The massage imitated Swedish massage techniques, which are the most popular for sports massage with long strokes, kneading, friction, and joint movement. After the exercise and massage, the researchers tested the muscle tissues of all of the animals. The specific muscle tested was the anterior tibialis, which in humans is the shin muscle that often complains with shin splint pain when you begin or change your walking program.

Massaged Muscles Showed Improved Recovery

The difference in strength recovery between massaged muscles was significant - 60% strength compared to 15% for the non-massaged muscles. The researchers also saw that the massaged muscles had fewer damaged muscle fibers and no sign of white blood cells present to repair muscle damage. The massaged muscles showed less sign of swelling, weighing 8% less than the non-massaged muscles.

Previous Human Study Didn't Find Recovery Effect

While the rabbits showed some effects of improved muscle recovery from massage, a previous study of human cyclists published in the April, 2004 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that there was no measurable effect in the ability of their leg muscles to perform after either of leg massage or resting recovery. But the cyclists reported less fatigue after massage.

Should You Get Sports Massage?

This study suggests there is a benefit to sports massage after a hard exercise workout. Walkers training for a half marathon or marathon may benefit from sports massage after their long workouts. You can find a certified massage therapist in your area. A cheaper alternative is to train your walking partner or spouse to use simple Swedish massage techniques. Using a foam roller to perform self-massage might also be a less expensive way to get the benefits of massage.


Butterfield TA, Zhao Y, Agarwal S, Haq F, Best TM. "Cyclic compressive loading facilitates recovery after eccentric exercise." Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Jul;40(7):1289-96.

A Robertson, J M Watt, S D R Galloway. "Effects of leg massage on recovery from high intensity cycling exercise." Br J Sports Med 2004;38:173-176.


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