Many people think of massage as just a feel-good luxury, but there are numerous health benefits. A major one being recovery after strenuous physical activity. Post-workout massage therapy has been used as a recovery method for athletes, but there was little science to support it. Now science is showing there’s much more to it than just making us feel better.
In the last several years, studies done in the field of massage, are making the reasons clear. Researchers studied when an athlete’s muscles were truly ready to return to activity, and how post-workout massage affected that.
In a 2015 study[1*] they wanted to see if massage could increase post-workout strength and body awareness (proprioception). They focused their testing on the gastrocnemius (the large muscle of the calf). Each participant ran up and down a 5 story building twenty times. Following this, half the subjects received a 15-minute massage to the lower legs and the other half did not. The subjects who received massage had more strength and improved proprioception and muscular architecture.
It won’t replace lifting weights, but strength and proper technique are restored when massage is applied after an intense workout. That means quicker recovery, so you can get back into action sooner.
Another study[2*] discovered that massage decreased the activity of a protein called NF-kB, which causes exercise-related inflammation. It increased the activity of a protein called PGC-1alpha, which spurs the production of new mitochondria. What does this mean? Basically, on a cellular level, massage is decreasing inflammation and increasing cellular repair after exercise. Another suggestion that massage after a workout truly helps your body restore itself faster.
A common myth is that massage “flushes out” lactic acid. That isn’t the case at all. The reason you feel better is because of structural and cellular changes to the muscles, which makes for a speedy recovery.
If you love to push yourself at the gym, schedule your next massage right after to get the most benefit!
1 Effects of Massage on Muscular Strength and Proprioception After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Shin, Mal-Soon; Sung, Yun-Hee. https://journals.lww.com/nsca- jscr/Fulltext/2015/08000/Effects_of_Massage_on_Muscular_Strength_and.22.aspx
2 Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Justin D. Crane, Daniel I. Ogborn, Colleen Cupido, Simon Melov, Alan Hubbard, Jacqueline M. Bourgeois, and Mark A. Tarnopolsky. http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/4/119/119ra13