Helen Binkley, PhD, ATC, CSCS,*D
Massage is a therapeutic tool that has been widely used by numerous health care professionals as a treatment for sport-related injuries and performance (2,14). Massage is defined as “a mechanical manipulation of body tissues with rhythmical pressure and stroking for the purpose of promoting health and well-being” (2). Effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction, and vibration massage techniques are commonly used to provide treatment to recover from injuries and to enhance performance (Table 1). Massage can be used to soothe sore muscles and increase local circulation (12,14), loosen muscle spasms and adhesions (12,14), stimulate muscle spindles and golgi tendon organs (12,14), reduce local inflammatory responses (12,14), and facilitate muscle relaxation and increase circulation (12). However, massage performed before exercise has been found to decrease muscular strength (4,16) and have adverse effects on vertical jump, speed, and reaction time (1). It is imperative that the strength and conditioning specialists know the types of massage techniques and the physiological benefits used for improving flexibility, performance, muscle recovery, and the rehabilitation of injuries within the athletic population. Massage is a vital component in the overall well-being of their clients.
Massage does appear to be extremely beneficial for recovery after exercise. Past research has shown that the application of massage up to 2 hours after exercise has been shown to produce beneficial effects for muscular recovery (2). Treatment during this period may increase blood flow and improve tissue alignment of injured tissues. Combining effleurage, petrissage, and tapotement for 15-30 minutes up to 2 hours after exercise can reduce the symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (2,7,10,12,14) and improve range of motion (ROM) (6,8,11,13). The combination of effleurage and petrissage for 15-30 minutes after exercise may improve blood flow (3,14) and increase recovery (5,14,17). Effleurage combined with petrissage for 15 minutes after exercise may improve blood lactate clearance in muscles (12). Research has also shown that combining different massage techniques can positively influence treatments to improve performance, recovery, ROM, blood flow, DOMS, and blood lactate levels (Table 2). A 30-minute massage combining effleurage, petrissage, and friction massages before and after exercise may provide psychological benefits as well (9,15) (Table 3). Finally, combining an active recovery with massage therapy has shown a greater effectiveness on muscular recovery than massage alone (2).
The research presented demonstrates the benefits of massage therapy and should be another therapeutic tool used by the strength and conditioning specialist. Choosing the right combination of stroke techniques and the appropriate time to apply the techniques as outlined in the tables may be useful for postexercise recovery, limiting injuries, and preparing athletes for performance. Future research should focus on the standardization of massage therapy including the duration/time of treatment and the combination of different massage techniques to provide a clear understanding of massage's effects on muscular performance and recovery from exercise and injury.
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