Knowing the benefits of massage therapy elite athletes often resort to sports type of this activity to accelerate recovery, improve athletic performance and prevent injury. It is worth noting that massage is quite expensive and lasting pleasure, but at the same time a reliable evidence base of its effectiveness has not been noticed.
A meta-analysis of 22 randomized trials did not reveal significant positive effects of sports massage to accelerate recovery after training and alleviate DOMS. This article will examine the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis, which examined the benefits of sports massage.
PubMed and Cochrane databases were used to select articles; the search was based on the keywords “sports massage”, “sports therapy”, “athlete”, “benefits of massage therapy articles”. Research should evaluate the effects of sports massage on athletic performance and recovery. The analysis did not include non-randomized studies or those that used any massage other than manual.
In these studies, various massage techniques have been considered, such as: effleurage (striking, lymphatic drainage massage), petrissage (kneading), pincement (pinching), wringing (squeezing), tapotement (tapping), vibrations and friction massage.
29 studies were selected: 12 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and 17 randomized cross-sectional studies. In total, 1012 people took part in them.
Physiqual Fitness and Benefits of Massage Therapy
The effect of sports massage on strength indicators.
Twelve studies examined whether sports massage affects faster recovery of strength after exercise.
Jönhagen and colleagues in their work examined the effect of massage on the restoration of the quadriceps muscle after 300 contractions in 16 participants in the experiment. After exercise for twelve minutes, the athletes were given a massage. Then, for 3 days, massage was done on only one leg. It was found that massage did not have a significant effect on subsequent strength indicators.
Hemmings and colleagues studied the effect of massage on the strengths of a group of eight amateur boxers. Their results were compared with a group of boxers who rested for 20 minutes after training. Differences in strength between the groups were not observed.
Dawson and colleagues examined the effects of regular massage over an extended period on amateur runners. Participants were divided into 2 groups: one did massage for 10 weeks, the other did not. Differences in strength indicators between the groups were also not noted.
Sports massage and jump power
Fletcher and colleagues examined the effects of massage – effleurage and petrissage – as a “warm up” before a 20 meter sprint. According to the results of the study, there was no difference in performance with those who simply did the “traditional warm-up” of the sprinter.
Goodwin and colleagues also studied the effect of massage on 30m sprint results. The participants were divided into 3 groups: those who received a 15-minute massage, those who received a 15-minute ultrasound massage (placebo), and those who simply relaxed. There were no significant differences between the groups of participants in the sprint. A meta-analysis showed that massage did not affect sprint results.
The benefits of massage therapy on endurance
In the study of Lane and Wenger cyclists were divided into 4 groups. The participants in each group made an 18-minute bike ride, and then for 15 minutes:
- actively rested (cycling, 30% of the maximum);
- immersed feet in cool water (15 degrees);
- received foot massage;
- just sat resting.
After 24 hours, they repeated a similar 18-minute race. In terms of endurance, only passive sitting showed a significant decrease in the amount of work performed between the first and second sets. The first 3 options seemed to facilitate the recovery process between the two high-intensity workouts. But between them there were no significant differences.
Monedero and Donne also studied the effect of massage on the endurance of athletes (5 km bike ride). Eighteen cyclists were divided into groups according to the type of recovery: active recovery, massage, passive recovery and a combination of active recovery and massage. A small positive effect on endurance was noted only in a group of athletes who had an active recovery after training (not massage).
Sports massage and muscle fatigue
Hemmings and colleagues studied the effect of massage on athletic performance in amateur boxers and found that it significantly increased perceived fatigue compared to the control group.
The impact of sports massage on flexibility
Studying other components of physical fitness Barlow and colleagues examined the effect of massage on the flexibility of the biceps femoris. A group of 11 men was given a 15-minute massage. There was no significant difference in flexibility between the group of men who had the massage and the control group.
Similarly, Zainuddin et al did not find a significant effect of massage on the range of motion of the elbow joint.
Hopper and colleagues evaluated the effect of two different massage techniques on the length of the biceps femoris in 39 hockey players. Classical massage and instrumental soft tissue mobilization (BMI) were used. The best extensibility of the biceps femoris was observed in both groups of participants who were given massage as compared to the group of participants who had passive rest, but there were no differences between the different types of massage.
The benefits of massage therapy on DOMS
Zainuddin and colleagues found that massage does not alleviate strength and does not reduce muscle swelling.
Hilbert and colleagues examined the physiological and psychological effects of a 20-minute massage on the fittings compared to a “pseudo” massage. No positive effect of massage on DOMS was found.
Mancinelli and colleagues found that massage significantly reduced muscle soreness in female basketball players and volleyball players.
Nunes and colleagues also found that athletes who were massaged after the Ironman triathlon experienced a decrease in strength compared with the control group.
A large meta-analysis of studies on this topic showed that massage led to a statistically significant positive effect on DOMS after training.
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