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Does Post-Workout Massage Benefit Athletes?

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Does Post-Workout Massage Benefit Athletes

Does Post-Workout Massage Benefit Athletes: France’s national football team, who ultimately won the 2018 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup, competed in seven games within thirty days.1 Teams in the Union of European Football Associations typically play 9 or more matches every month, too.

The necessity of resting between games and the need for enhanced muscle healing procedures have been emphasized by superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and managers such as José Mourinho.3 Schedules like this are becoming more common, therefore players and team doctors need to develop ways to help them recuperate more quickly.  


Massage treatment has been used for millennia, and its popularity among athletes and the general public persists today. According to research conducted in 2013, 78% of French professional soccer clubs used massage treatment to aid in the rehabilitation of its players.

According to Cafarelli and Flint’s evaluation of the literature on sports massage in 1992 in Canada, massage therapy accounts for up to 45 percent of the time spent on physiotherapy for sports-related injuries and performance.

Sports massage is not just one method, but rather a variety of them, including effleurage (sliding, circular motions), petrissage (tissue kneading and/or pressure), friction (application of pressure), and application of vibrations. Massage has been linked to a wide variety of health advantages.

Relief from muscular stress and stiffness; accelerated healing of strained muscles and torn ligaments; decreased pain, edema, and spasm in the massaged muscles; increased joint flexibility and range of motion; improved sports performance; these are just some of the advantages of massage listed by the American Massage Therapy Association.

Myofascial discomfort and spasm relief, enhanced blood flow, and faster lactate and creatine kinase elimination from the circulation are further postulated advantages. This lack of consensus, along with the wide variety of massage techniques, makes it difficult to do rigorous scientific research on massages’ physical effects in athletes.

A wide variety of outcomes, including as joint range of motion, isokinetic and isometric peak strength, vertical and long leaps, and blood lactate and creatine kinase levels, have been assessed in trials of massage therapy.  


Best et al. (2008) conducted a comprehensive evaluation of research that evaluated the effects of massage on muscular recovery and performance after intense exercise. Case series made up seventeen of the studies that met inclusion criteria. However, only two of the 17 studies found that massage improved muscle function after exercise.

Function and subjective symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) were assessed in the other 7 case series. Massage therapy was found to reduce DOMS symptoms in four of seven studies. The authors of the Best et al. study found “moderate evidence” that massage may be useful in muscle rehabilitation from the 10 randomized controlled studies that met the inclusion criteria.

None of the 27 research included in the meta-analysis found any negative effects from massage treatment. Though they came to similar conclusions as Best et al., the authors of a 2013 review of recovery strategies among soccer players, Nédélec et al., cautioned, “It should not be excluded that massage of injured tissue may lead to further damage in muscle if given immediately after a training session that induced muscle damage.”

The effects of massage on Ironman athletes were examined in a 2016 study by Nunes et al. The authors found that compared to athletes who rested seated for 7 minutes after the event, those who received a 7-minute massage reported significantly less pain and fatigue on a visual analog scale (VAS) of 0 to 100 mm (a 100-mm line anchored by 2 verbal descriptors for each extreme end of symptoms).

The average VAS score for pain was reduced by 7 millimeters (95% CI, 1-13) and the average VAS score for exhaustion was reduced by 15 millimeters (95% CI, 9-21) in the massage group. A meta-analysis conducted in 2016 indicated that shorter massages (lasting between 5 and 12 minutes) are more effective than longer massages (lasting 13 minutes or more), with measurable gains in performance on a cycling sprint, endurance, and vertical leap.

“The effects of massage on performance recovery are rather small,” the study concluded.Although massage has been shown to help some athletes recover from competition, whether or not its modest benefits warrant its widespread use remains debatable. It appears that massage treatment has beneficial psychological effects on athletes.

In a study conducted on college students participating in physical education classes, Weinberg et al. (1988) found that massage significantly reduced levels of stress, disorientation, weariness, anxiety, and sadness compared to controls. More than a decade later, in the year 2000, Hemmings et al. compared the effects of massage vs passive rest for amateur boxers following a session on a boxing ergometer.

The massage group reported substantially greater levels of recovery following the therapies, as determined by a Wilcoxon matched-pairs test. In the same study, researchers observed no significant variations in punching power or blood sugar levels between the two groups. Blood lactate concentrations were much higher in the massage group, the authors found, lending credence to Nédélec’s prior warning.  


An intervention is considered successful and evidence-based if it improves an athlete’s mood immediately following physical activity. The risk arises when a treatment is advertised (often in very literal terms) as having beneficial effects on physiological processes at both the micro and macro levels when, after extensive research, no such effects have been established.

Such circumstances allow for not simply subpar but potentially harmful medical practice. Do not lie about an intervention’s physiologic consequences is a natural extension of the duty of nonmaleficence, or “do no harm,” that we have as doctors. 

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