Often thought to enhance performance in sports and serve as a critical aid in recovery, massages remain a popular go-to for athletes. However, significant studies have revealed the contrary and shown that sports massages do not directly improve sports performance. This article seeks to debunk the idea that sports massages are beneficial for sports performance and recovery.
- Sports massages have minimal impact on sports recovery and performance,
- As elucidated in the article, massages have a negligible impact on performance and recovery but may motivate athletes to perform better,
- Active recovery, good sleep, water immersion and cryotherapy are some alternatives to massage therapy.
What is a sports massage?
A sports massage refers to a more intense form of a regular massage, which involves the techniques of effleurage (sliding, circular movements), petrissage (tissue kneading and pressure), friction (pressure application) and the application of vibrations.
The effects of sports massages on recovery and performance
Sports massages have minimal impact on sports recovery and performance. A study revealed that different types of massages exert varied effects on the body’s physiology. The types of massages that were performed included Swedish deep tissue, myo-fascial release, trigger point and craniosacral in addition to regular sports massages. The main focus of the study was to analyze the changes in blood pressure post a pre-event massage.
The Swedish deep tissue massage was found to decrease blood pressure to a large extent and the traditional sports massage increased blood pressure. Thus, if a sports massage is performed prior to an event, the chances of injury or poor performance are higher. Massages were previously thought to increase venous blood flow, but now studies e have also revealed that they have no impact on it.
Another study that tested the impact of massages on repeated performance found that massages actually increased the blood lactate levels, as opposed to decreasing the lactate levels in amateur boxers.
Massages have a low to minimal impact on blood flow, as confirmed by another study. Another study has revealed that massages help improve flexibility in the short term but not significantly.. A significant study highlighted the fact that 45% of the total time spent on physiotherapy for performance was in massages, thereby, showcasing the popularity of perceived benefits of massages, when the literature strongly reveals the contrary.
The benefits of massage therapy
As elucidated in the article, massages have a negligible impact on performance and recovery. However, the perception of massages improving performance has one positive outcome. In a study where some boxers were made to use a boxing ergometer, following which massages were administered, it was observed that recovery and subsequent performance had risen by as much as 45% because the boxers believed massages would help. Another study that looks into the psychological effects of massages, observed a 16% increase in endorphin levels in athletes, which may motivate athletes to perform better.
Massage therapy was found to affect the circulation of creatine kinase, which is a marker for muscle damage. The reduction in creatine kinase resulted in the decrease in muscle damage and aided in quicker muscle recovery. Furthermore, massage therapy was found to decrease the expression of IL- 6. When combined with stretching exercises, it was found that massage therapy had indeed boosted recovery.
Alternatives to massage therapy to boost performance and recovery
- Active recovery: Active recovery essays a crucial role in reducing blood lactase. The reduction in blood lactase is a key marker of recovery. Active warm-down strategies are more successful at blood lactate removal than massages. Active recovery techniques include walking, jogging, swimming, cycling and yoga.
- Optimum sleep: Getting about eight to nine hours of sleep.
- Cryotherapy: Cryotherapy was found to be effective in ensuring muscle recovery through repeated exposure to therapy. This is because cryotherapy reduces creatine kinase levels and lowers IL-6 levels. (Related: Biohacking 101: Cryotherapy)
- Water immersion: The cold temperature from water immersion resulted in the decrease in oedema formation and pain.
Massages have been used to facilitate athletes’ performance and recovery for years. With mounting literature published in significant science journals, the fact that massages have a minimalistic impact on performance and recovery has become highly prominent. It is time for the world to move on to better, more effective tools to improve athletic performance.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.