Sport massage, a manual therapy for muscle and soft tissue pain and weakness, is a popular and widely used modality for recovery after intense exercise. Our objective is to determine the effectiveness of sport massage for improving recovery after strenuous exercise.
We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CINAHL using all current and historical names for sport massage. Reference sections of included articles were scanned to identify additional relevant articles.
Study inclusion criteria required that subjects (1) were humans, (2) performed strenuous exercise, (3) received massage, and (4) were assessed for muscle recovery and performance. Ultimately, 27 studies met inclusion criteria.
Eligible studies were reviewed, and data were extracted by the senior author (TMB). The main outcomes extracted were type and timing of massage and outcome measures studied.
Data from 17 case series revealed inconsistent results. Most studies evaluating post-exercise function suggest that massage is not effective, whereas studies that also evaluated the symptoms of DOMS did show some benefit. Data from 10 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) do, however, provide moderate evidence for the efficacy of massage therapy. The search identified no trend between type and timing of massage and any specific outcome measures investigated.
Case series provide little support for the use of massage to aid muscle recovery or performance after intense exercise. In contrast, RCTs provide moderate data supporting its use to facilitate recovery from repetitive muscular contractions. Further investigation using standardized protocols measuring similar outcome variables is necessary to more conclusively determine the efficacy of sport massage and the optimal strategy for its implementation to enhance recovery following intense exercise.