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Does Massage Accelerate Recovery From Exercise?

24 Sep 2015
Randall Cooper
Recovery from exercise and sports is a challenge for athletes who are looking to improve their performance or prepare as best they can for the next training session or event. Many strategies are used to enhance recovery including nutrition, rehydration, hydrotherapy, and sleep to name a few. Massage has been a cornerstone of athletic recovery for years, but the scientific evidence supporting its’ effectiveness has been mixed. A new study however has shed some further light on whether massage is effective for sports recovery.

The study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences this month (1) investigated the effect of sports massage on the performance of bodybuilders. Two groups of male bodybuilders were randomly assigned to a massage group or control group. Both groups performed vigorous squats and leg press (5 sets of 75% of 1RM for both exercises) with the massage group receiving 30 minutes of massage after the session and the control group performing a normal passive recovery.

Recovery and performance of the athletes was measured at 6 time intervals: baseline, immediately after the session, immediately after the massage, and 24, 48, and 72 hours post massage. The following variables were assessed;

  • Creatine Kinase (CK) levels – a marker of muscle breakdown/damage (as well as other functions).
  • Agility test
  • Vertical jump test
  • Isometric torque test (using an isokinetic dynamometer)
  • Perception of soreness


Picture: Isokinetic Dynamometer, Beatty Park Physiotherapy, Perth Australia

The massage was performed by qualified massage therapists and consisted of a standardized session of Swedish techniques.

The results were as expected, as both groups demonstrated significant decreases in the vertical jump, agility, and isometric torque measures, and increases in CK levels and muscle soreness. There were however three notable differences between the massage and control groups;

  1. The massage group performed better in the vertical jump test and isometric torque test from 24-72 hours post massage
  2. A lesser increase in CK levels was observed for the massage group
  3. The massage group reported a reduced perception of soreness compared with the control group

For obvious reasons, the groups could not be blinded to the treatment (or not) they were receiving, so the perception of soreness result needs to be considered with caution. The study was also relatively small (30 participants), however the results of this study support clinical trend and anecdotal evidence that massage after intense exercise is of benefit.


  1. Kargarfard M, T C Lam E, Shariat A, Shaw I, S Shaw B, B M Tamrin S. Efficacy of massage on muscle soreness, perceived recovery, physiological restoration and physical performance in male bodybuilders. J Sports Sci. 2015 Sep 3:1-7. [Epub ahead of print]


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