In short, yes, but it’s not quite as simple as that…
The efficacy of sports massage depends on frequency, firmness and what your particular problem is. A vigorous massage won’t cure one bout of muscle soreness, but regular sessions will help you bounce back from it a bit faster. Deep massage tends to have a cumulative effect.
A single deep tissue leg massage will have almost no effect on the hamstring, but a study found that regular leg massages (three a week over ten weeks), led to an extra four degrees of flexibility and a 13% increase in muscle strength.
Regular post-exercise massage can also reduce the reported intensity of muscle soreness and help those muscles recover and gain strength faster.
Is it all in the mind, though?
Another study, on rabbits, found that massaged muscles had fewer damaged fibres and less swelling than un-massaged muscles. Rabbits aren’t known for their vivid imaginations, after all.
Can it help runners?
Think of what runners want – better running, faster recovery after long runs and fewer injuries – sports massage can loosen up tight muscles, helping to correct musculo-skeletal imbalances, a major cause of long-term injuries.
Additionally, some types of massage improve circulation, sending nutrients to the muscles as well as promoting waste-clearing lymphatic drainage. It can also discover areas of tightness or tenderness, helping you to head off any problems at the pass.
When is massage a good idea?
If you’re about to increase your exercise intensity, a massage course can help your muscles cope with the “shock”. Pre-exercise massages don’t seem to do much, but post-exercise treatment seems to have lots of benefits.
Lactic acid surprise
It was thought that post-exercise muscle soreness was due to lactic acid build-up, but it’s actually microscopic tears to muscle fibres. Massage can help to break down fibrous “scar” tissue and adhesions that can form as the muscles recover – helping athletes to avoid delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
It’s best to have a strong massage two days after a hard run or workout so the first round of soreness has subsided and the adhesions are starting to develop.
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