Benefits of Sports Massage

Sports massage speeds recovery from exercise and enhances performance due to its effects on the cardiovascular system.

Sports mas­sage is a modal­i­ty taught in most mas­sage schools and as such is a grow­ing field. Many pro­fes­sion­al ath­let­ic teams as well as dance troupes use sports mas­sage to aid in recov­ery between work­outs and ath­let­ic events. There are even on staff mas­sage ther­a­pists for these var­i­ous pro­fes­sion­als. Yet many peo­ple still see mas­sage as mere­ly a method of relax­ation or a year­ly treat and not as a way to speed recov­ery from exer­cise and enhance per­for­mance. This arti­cle will dis­cuss the mech­a­nisms where­by sports mas­sage speeds recov­ery after exer­cise due to its effects on the car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem.

It is com­mon­ly under­stood that sports mas­sage has many pos­i­tive effects on the car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem. It improves cir­cu­la­tion by mechan­i­cal­ly assist­ing the venous flow of blood back to the heart. Anoth­er one of the ben­e­fits of sports mas­sage is that it caus­es blood ves­sels to dilate. Due to the enhanced blood flow, deliv­ery of fresh oxy­gen and nutri­ents to the tis­sues is improved, and the removal of waste prod­ucts, tox­ins and car­bon diox­ide is has­tened via the venous sys­tem. Sports massage also caus­es a tem­po­rary decrease in heart rate due to dila­tion of the cap­il­lar­ies and a decrease in heart rate due to relax­ation and the acti­va­tion of the parasym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem.  Last­ly, mas­sage caus­es a reduc­tion in ischemia which is a con­di­tion marked by a reduc­tion in the flow of blood to body parts, often marked by pain and tis­sue dys­func­tion.

Lac­tic acid is one waste prod­uct cre­at­ed by the mus­cle cells dur­ing exer­cise which can build up and cause pain and fatigue.  One cause of mus­cle fatigue is restrict­ed blood flow to active­ly con­tract­ing mus­cles which can lead to insuf­fi­cient deliv­ery of oxy­gen and inad­e­quate removal of meta­bol­ic waste prod­ucts, includ­ing lac­tic acid.  When mus­cles are tight, there is less space into which the blood can flow.  Blood flow is need­ed in order to trans­port valu­able oxy­gen and nutri­ents into those mus­cle tis­sues. Sports massage has the effect of open­ing up the mus­cle space by relax­ing the tis­sue which allows the blood to flow into those tis­sues, thus aid­ing in recov­ery. The increase in blood flow also speeds the metab­o­lism and removal of waste prod­ucts such as lac­tic acid.

Aside from relax­ing the mus­cles, sports mas­sage also assists the flow of blood back to the heart through the mechan­i­cal action of squeez­ing and flush­ing those mus­cles which cause the waste prod­ucts to evac­u­ate from the mus­cles tis­sues at a faster rate than with­out mas­sage. It would be dif­fi­cult to deter­mine whether the vasodi­la­tion is a direct result of mas­sage or an indi­rect result of the relax­ing of the mus­cle tis­sues. The decrease in blood pres­sure aids in recov­ery by allow­ing the blood to flow through the body more eas­i­ly while the heart doesn’t have to work as hard. Because of this decrease, the whole sys­tem can recov­er with­out hav­ing to put forth as much effort. Also, the decrease in heart rate and acti­va­tion of the parasym­pa­thet­ic nerves sys­tem puts the entire body into a state of relax­ation which enhances recov­ery from stren­u­ous activ­i­ty.

Anoth­er one of the ben­e­fits of sports mas­sage is that the reduc­tion in ischemia increas­es blood flow and enhances recov­ery as dis­cussed above. Recov­ery from exer­cise caus­es a decrease in mus­cle dis­com­fort but also reduces fatigue which can enhance per­for­mance in both the short term and over time. A 1996 study showed the effec­tive­ness of mas­sage in recov­ery and per­for­mance. Sub­jects who received mas­sage after knee exten­sion exer­cis­es were able to repeat the exer­cis­es after the mas­sage with bet­ter results than those sub­jects in the con­trol group who did not receive mas­sage. Mas­sage recip­i­ents also report­ed low­er lev­els of dis­com­fort in the effect­ed mus­cles than those who did not receive mas­sage. A 2004 study also pro­duced sim­i­lar results using and iso­met­ric lum­bar exer­cise.

The results of these stud­ies and anec­do­tal reports demon­strate that mas­sage not only aids in recov­ery after exer­cise but that this speed­ed recov­ery enhances per­for­mance. If an ath­lete is able to per­form bet­ter due to the ben­e­fits of sports mas­sage after one treat­ment only, it nat­u­ral­ly fol­lows that reg­u­lar sports mas­sage would have last­ing ben­e­fits to both recov­ery and per­for­mance. This is why so many ath­letes receive mas­sage on an ongo­ing basis and why mas­sage can ben­e­fit any­one as an adjunct to their reg­u­lar exer­cise pro­gram.


Effects of Mas­sage on Blood Flow and Mus­cle Fatigue Fol­low­ing Iso­met­ric Lum­bar Exer­cise ~ Hid­teoshi et al, Med Sci Monit, 2004

Mas­sage and Recov­ery: An Elec­tromyo­graph­i­cal and Bio­me­chan­ics Approach ~ Portero, Canon and Duforex, Speak­ing Days of Phys­i­cal Med­i­cine and Reha­bil­i­ta­tion: Sep­tem­ber 27–28, 1996