Sports massage of little physical benefit

March 28, 2000

Effects of massage on physiological restoration, perceived recovery, and related sports performance 2000;34:109-15

Massage, widely used by athletes to speed up muscle recovery after sporting performance, confers little physical advantage, although it may be of some psychological benefit, says research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The effects of massage on muscle power were assessed in eight amateur boxers in their mid-20s by measuring blood glucose, lactate, and heart rate before and after two performances. Each performance lasted 10 minutes each and entailed 400 punches. After the first performance the boxers either had a 20 minute massage by a qualified sports therapist or 20 minutes of rest. The force of the punches was assessed in both performances.

Lactate is the substance released by muscles on prolonged exertion: its accumulation 'tires' the muscles and its dispersal into the bloodstream facilitates the recovery. Massage is thought to speed up blood flow, so aiding lactate dispersal.

Blood lactate levels were no lower after massage than when resting and massage was also unable to prevent a reduction in punch power during the second performance. The authors suggest that either blood flow was not affected by massage, or that it was not sufficiently increased. None of the other body indicators differed between the two groups. But the boxers who had been given a massage felt significantly better than those assigned to rest.

Dr Brian Hemmings, Division of Sports Studies, University College Northampton.

BMJ Specialty Journals

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