Massage, in the general sense, has been around for thousands of years, designed to provide therapy, treatment and physical rehabilitation. Cultural variations and regional disparity has created new forms of massage documented as either therapy or treatment, aside from those that offer perceived comfort and relaxation. The field of sports medicine has also taken into consideration the possible benefits of Sports massage as a means to provide treatment, and therapy to those who might be suffering different problems and issues but one important topic in discussion is based on the idea that massage can offer improved athletic performance.
What makes Sports massage sensational as a therapeutic method is that scientific studies cannot seem to arrive to a solid, conclusive assessment on how this massage method can improve methods in sports science, muscle healing and therapy. According to a study by Jason Brummit, MSTP, SCS, ATCa on the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, while Sports massage is known as a popular treatment for athletes and therapists themselves, despite known benefits and usage, “…evidence demonstrating its efficacy is scarce.” In his research, Brummit has taken into consideration different aspects in which massage is or can be utilized including pre-event therapy, sports performance, rehabilitation and recovery. Results pertaining to massage is been inconclusive, usually drawing to poor appreciation and lack of solid understanding of actual therapeutic benefits.
Sports medicine addresses numerous conditions of the human body that arise due to physical activity such as delayed onset muscle soreness. According to Hilbert, Sforzo, and Swensen on their original article on the effects of Sports massage on DOMS, massage conducted after an injury induced by exercise does not improve muscle condition, though it has greatly reduced soreness of the muscles after 48 hours. DOMS is a kind of pain in the skeletal muscle after novel eccentric exercises. The intensity of such pain rises within 24 hours and intensifies within the next 48 hours. Recovery time is within 5 to 7 days. While Sports massage is proven as a therapeutic tool to increase muscle recovery and rehabilitation, it is not, however, a beneficial tool for muscle functionality and improvement.
Another important aspect of sports science and healing is tendon pain. According to a study by Caroline Mall at the Saint Louis University, tendon pain is a big issue in sports and physical performance that could affect and end athletic careers. Apart from other therapeutic and surgical solutions to address tendon pain, deep transverse friction massage was also considered as a formidable method to address pain, such as tendinitis. However, it is only used as a complementary treatment for other modalities including iontophoresis and low level laser therapy in which the massage can be used to reduce the adhesions of the tendon while stimulating the collagen fibers for healthy realignment. According to a study at the University of Ottawa, the actual therapeutic efficacy of such massage is inconclusive, as well.
While there are still many gray areas about the actual relation of massage to athletic performance, there are proven benefits that have been analyzed. Brummit furthered that while performance enhancement and injury reduction are debatable claims for the use of massage, it can be helpful as it increases the person’s range of motion, at least for short term results. Apart from flexibility, previous studies have also shown significant benefits to muscle strength. According to a study by Brooks et al, grip performance after massage has increased considerably compared to those who did not undergo massage intervention. While natural recovery can be beneficial, massage treatments have been tested as beneficial for athletes and active individuals to recuperate.
One aspect of massage is on the psychological aspect. According to a study on boxers and their punching efficacy, those who have undergone massage and those who have rested in a supine position experienced decreased punching performance, though they have increased their perception of recovery. According to a study by Cheung K, Hume P and Maxwell L, Blood lactate concentrations were not affected by the massage but it has been proven that there is a psychological aspect in massage and how a person’s effort is improved even if his physical condition has not been affected.
Given the amount of research available and findings they have gathered, we can summarize that Sports massage has considerable effects to human sports performance. The perceived recovery of a person might be a big factor to the actual efficacy of such modalities since studies on chemical response and performance enhancement are inconclusive. Nevertheless, such modalities are also proven to have considerable benefits though they are immediate and short term.
The immediate effects of the manual massage on power-grip performance after maximal exercise in healthy adults. Brooks CP, Woodruff LD, Wright LL, Donatelli R. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Dec; 11(6):1093-101.
Dynamic soft tissue mobilisation increases hamstring flexibility in healthy male subjects. Hopper D, Deacon S, Das S, Jain A, Riddell D, Hall T, Briffa K. Br J Sports Med. 2005 Sep; 39(9):594-8; discussion 598.