MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Massage is frequently used for recovery and increased performance. This review, aimed to search and systemize current literature findings relating to massages’ effects on sports and exercise performance concerning its effects on motor abilities and neurophysiological and psychological mechanisms.

One hundred and fourteen articles were included. The data revealed that massages, in general, do not affect motor abilities, except flexibility. However, several studies demonstrated that positive muscle force and strength changed 48 h after the massage was given. Concerning neurophysiological parameters, massage did not change blood lactate clearance, muscle blood flow, muscle temperature, or activation. However, many studies indicated a reduction of pain and delayed onset muscle soreness, which are probably correlated with the reduction of the level of creatine kinase enzyme and psychological mechanisms. In addition, massage treatment led to a decrease in depression, stress, anxiety, and the perception of fatigue and an increase in mood, relaxation, and the perception of recovery.

The authors concluded that the direct usage of massages just for gaining results in sport and exercise performance seems questionable. However, it is indirectly connected to performance as an important tool when an athlete should stay focused and relaxed during competition or training and recover after them.

The evidence about the value of massage therapy is limited through the mostly poor quality of the primary studies. Unfortunately, the review authors did not bother to address this issue. Another recent and in my opinion more rigorous review identified 29 eligible studies recruiting 1012 participants, representing the largest examination of the effects of massage. Its authors found no evidence that massage improves measures of strength, jump, sprint, endurance, or fatigue, but massage was associated with small but statistically significant improvements in flexibility and DOMS. Massage therapy has the additional advantage that it is agreeable and nearly free of adverse effects. So, on balance, I think massage therapy might be worth considering for athletes.

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