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  • Claire Harrison

Massage doesn’t just make muscles feel better, it makes them heal faster and stronger


With the commonwealth games now at an end with some fantastic results for England with 176 medals in total, we decided to take a look at the importance of massage for professional athletes.


A blog post from an Australian massage therapist who volunteered at the 2018 games at the Gold Coast explains how important these sessions were, particularly for athletes from smaller countries who didn’t have their own therapist travelling with them. The therapist remembers a young boxer from a small nation who told him how happy he was to have access to a sports massage service as there was no access to sports massage back in their country. Some athletes from Asian countries also told him that they normally ended up going to acupuncture or cupping as sports massage is not very common in Asia.


All in all, the therapist did 12 shifts, 100 hours and treated approximately 130 athletes in sports as varied as Marathon, Badminton, Lawn Bowls, Swimming, Triathlon and Hockey.


So, what are the benefits of massage for athletes? Athletes have used massage since the dawn of time. It’s a practice that has been ingrained into routines all over the world.


Davis et al (2021) performed a meta-analysis of 29 scientific studies containing a total of 1012 participants in order to study the effect of manual massage on recovery and sporting performance. Their findings found a small but statistically relevant improvement in flexibility and delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS).[1]


In 2019 a PhD student, compiled a tiny study looking at massage in terms of mental state and stress, measuring saliva and the ‘Profile of mood states’ (POMS) questionnaire. POMS is a standard validated psychological test formulated by McNair et al. (1971)[1]. The questionnaire contains 65 words/statements that describe the feelings people have. The results showed a reduction in stress (cortisol) and mood state (POMS) following massage or the use of compression sleeves.


The Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically inspired engineering looked at how mice reacted to mechanical compressive forces on their legs and found that it doubled the rate of muscle regeneration and reduced tissue scarring over the course of two weeks. When injured mouse muscles were treated with mechanotherapy for three days they displayed a significantly reduced number of neutrophils (white blood cells which are an important part of the immune system and help the body fight infection) compared to untreated muscles, which had many more neutrophils distributed throughout the tissue. The treated mice’s muscles showed larger fibre size and greater strength recovery than those in untreated mice, confirming that while neutrophils are necessary in the earliest stages of injury recovery, getting them out of the injury site early leads to improved muscle regeneration.[2]


If you consider the effects shown in these studies, improved flexibility, reduced muscle soreness, improved muscle tissue regeneration and reduced stress and improved mood state, then the positive argument for sports massage begins to hold some weight.


For more information about sports massage please get in touch with Hayley at hayleyoxley@btinternet.com



[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7228568/ [2] https://wyss.harvard.edu/news/massage-doesnt-just-make-muscles-feel-better-it-makes-them-heal-faster-and-stronger/

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