The Science of Sports Massage

By Maria Kozikowska 

Massage has been employed for centuries to aid recovery from intensive exercise, reduce pain and muscle tension, increase flexibility, improve mood and induce relaxation, to name but a few. It was only recently that scientists started investigating its effectiveness and, even though the research on the effects of massage is relatively new, here is a list of the major benefits that have been proven so far.

 Back Pain Massage

Helping Lower Back Pain with Massage 

A number of studies found that regular massage does not only reduce chronic and persistent lower back pain but also leads to decrease in the use of medications in treating the pain. For sciatica sufferers, massage proved to reduce the symptoms of the condition. What is also vital is that the benefits of regular massage therapy for lower back pain have been found to be long-lasting with the pain decrease reported to last six months. Moreover, the best way to combat lower back pain is combining regular massage with exercise regime and posture education – a comprehensive package that can be delivered to you by a highly-qualified and experienced sports massage therapist.

Massage and Neck Pain 

Here is good news for those with stiff necks caused by hours of slouching at their desks, staring at the computer screens, driving or even cycling. Regular weekly massage sessions showed to be an effective method in reducing chronic neck pain. What is more, a last year’s study on the effects of massage on neck arthritis showed that regular massage sessions performed with moderate pressure resulted in pain reduction and increase in range of motion.

Improving Flexibility. 

Regular massage sessions increase your range of motion. The increase in flexibility is correlated to the decrease of pain, so you not only become more 'bendy’ when receiving frequent ‘rubs, but also painkiller-free.  

Enhancing Relaxation and Sleep Through Massage. 

Another wonderful and scientifically proven benefit of massage is relaxation. Studies reported that regular massage leads to reduction in depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. Thirty female university dancers that received 30-minute sessions twice a week for five weeks reported a less depressed mood, lowered anxiety levels and a decrease in saliva cortisol, an indication of stress hormone level. So if you don’t remember the last time you had a good kip or suffer from anxiety and stress, booking yourself a massage session would be definitely worthwhile.

 Sports Recovery Massage

Sport Recovery Massage.

If you’ve ever run a marathon or performed an exercise you’re not accustomed to, you have probably experienced the Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS), the sensation of aching or tender muscles felt during movement, occurring between 24 to 72 hours post exercise. A number of studies reported significant reductions in soreness perception of DOMS after massage. A last year’s study on the effects of massage on DOMS in ultramarathon runners who tackled a race of a ‘mere’ 330 km in length (!!!) reported that massage reduced the onset of DOMS symptoms. This explains why London sports massage clinics are fully booked the day after the London marathon!

 

Overcoming Headaches. 

There is a non-pharmacological solution for those suffering from regular and persistent headaches. Twice-weekly neck and shoulder massage sessions lasting 30-minutes over a period of four weeks in people suffering from chronic tension headaches reduced headache frequency and duration. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Massage

Arthritis patients may wonder if massage therapy is the right option for them. A recent study on the effects of regular massage of moderate pressure on 45 adults with rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs showed that once weekly treatments over a period of one month lead to less pain, greater grip strength and greater range of motion in the wrists, elbows and shoulders . 

Multiple Sclerosis and Massage.

A recent study on the effects of massage on forty-five individuals with Multiple Sclerosis showed that regular massage therapy for five weeks resulted in improvement in pain reduction, dynamic balance and walking speed in the tested individuals. What is more, patients involved in the combined massage-exercise therapy showed significantly larger pain reduction than those in the exercise only therapy. Another study reported that the participants’ personal health rating improved after massage and deteriorated when massage was removed. So now we not only know that massage is beneficial in symptom management for MS individuals, but also it is a safe and non-invasive treatment option that proved to improve quality of life of MS patients.

By no means is the above list exhaustive, but it proves that massage works. Moreover, what can be concluded from the above is that it’s the regular treatments that bring the long-lasting benefits, such as freedom from pain and improved quality of life. And, since we now know that the benefits exist, there is no doubt that regular treatments with a qualified and experienced therapist is an investment worth making. 

 

References

1.    Bell, J. (2008). ‘Massage therapy helps to increase range of motion, decrease pain and assist in healing a client with low back pain and sciatica symptoms’. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.12:281–289.
2.    Cherkin, D.C., Sherman, K.J, Kahn, et al. (2011). ‘A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial’. Ann Intern Med. 155(1):1-9. 
3.    Field, T., Diego, M., Delgado, J., Garcia, D., Funk, C.G. (2013). ‘Rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy’. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 19(2):101-3. 
4.    Field, T., Diego, M., Gonzalez, G., Funk, C.G. (2014). ‘Neck arthritis pain is reduced and range of motion is increased by massage therapy’. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 20(4):219-23. 
5.    Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M and Fraser, M. (2007). ‘Lower back pain and sleep disturbance are reduced following massage therapy’. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 11(2):141-145. 
6.    Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., Krasnegor, J. and Theakston, H. (2001). ‘Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy’. International Journal of Neuroscience. 106:131-145.
7.    Hopper, D., Conneely, M., Chromiak, F. , et al. (2005). ‘Evaluation of the effect of two massage techniques on hamstring muscle length in competitive female hockey players’. Phys Ther Sport. 6:137-145. 
8.    Leivadi, S., Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., et al. (1999). ‘Massage therapy and relaxation effects on university dance students’. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science. 3 (3), pp. 108-12
9.    Negahban, H., Rezaie, S., Goharpey, S. (2013). ‘Massage therapy and exercise therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled pilot study’. Clin Rehabil. 27(12):1126-36. 
10.    Preyde, M. (2000). ‘Effectiveness of massage therapy for subacute low-back pain: a randomized controlled trial’. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal de l’Association Medicale Canadienne. 162(13):1815–20. 
11.    Quinn, C., Chandler, C., Moraska, A. (2002). ‘Massage Therapy and Frequency of Chronic Tension Headaches’. American Journal of Public Health. 92(10):1657-1661.
12.    Sherman, K.J., Cook, A.J., Wellman, R.D., et al. (2014). ‘Five-week outcomes from a dosing trial of therapeutic massage for chronic neck pain’. Ann Fam Med. 12(2):112-20.
13.    Schroeder, B., Doig, J., Premkumar, K. (2014). ‘The effects of massage therapy on multiple sclerosis patients' quality of life and leg function’. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014:640916.
14.    Visconti, L. et al. (2014). ‘Effect of massage on DOMS in ultramarathon runners: A pilot study’. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. (article in press).
15.    Weerapong, P., Hume, P.A., Kolt, G.S. (2005). ‘The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention’. Sports Med. 35(3):235-56.