Massage Therapy For Athletes

The fact is most people are completely unaware of how good their body is supposed to feel. Athletes are constantly pushing themselves to the highest limits and demanding more from their bodies. Repeated physical stress from training and overuse can lead to soreness, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, inflammation, and injury. Recovery is crucial to continue training, making incremental gains, and maximizing athletic performance. Studies have shown that massage therapy may help athletes stay ahead of injuries and act as a supplementary piece in their recovery protocol to improve mobility and enhance performance.

5 Reasons How Massage Therapy Can Benefit Athletes - Swolverine

What Is Sports Massage

Sports massage is not a single modality but defined as a collection of massage techniques achieved by a systematic manipulation of the soft tissues relevant to a particular sports or training modality. There are three forms or techniques often used in sports massage therapy which include effleurage, petrissage and deep transverse friction massage.

Effleurage techniques are applied using moderate to light pressure and performed along the length of the muscle from a distal to proximal sequence. The petrissage techniques include kneading, wringing, and scooping strokes, while deep transverse, commonly known as deep tissue massage is performed by applying force transversely across the problem areas.

Benefits of Massage Therapy For Athletes

Clinical studies and research include a diverse set of benefits and outcomes of sports massage including joint range of motion, isokinetic and isometric peak strength, vertical and long jumps, and blood lactate and creatine kinase levels.

The American Massage Therapy Association alone lists several associated benefits of massage therapy for athletes such as [1, 2]

  • relief of muscle tension and stiffness
  • faster healing of strained muscles and sprained ligaments
  • reduced muscle pain
  • reduced muscle swelling and spasms
  • greater joint flexibility and range of motion
  • enhanced athletic performance

“Sports massage sessions can help keep athletes ahead of overuse injuries and injuries related to compensation. Finding problem areas before issues develop should be a priority for anyone trying to get the most out of their bodies in the gym”, says Bobby Baum from Baum Therapy.

“The benefits from regular massage add up very quickly; range of motion, flexibility, faster recovery times and better sleep are some of the first things people will notice when they incorporate massage and better self-care activities into their routines.”

Massage Therapy May Enhance Athletic Performance & Recovery

If you can include effective approaches to your recovery regimen, you can incrementally improve performance outcomes where they matter most to obtain a competitive edge.

A 2008 systematic review analyzed several studies and assessed muscle recovery and performance after massage post workout. Of the seventeen studies that were analyzed, two demonstrated improved muscle function following massage therapy. Seven of those studies evaluated post exercise function and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) ratings and showed positive benefits and results associated with massage therapy and moderate evidence to optimize recovery and performance.[3]

Studies also show that shorter duration massage (5-12) minutes have superior outcomes compared to longer massages, with objective improvements in work on a cycling sprint, endurance, and vertical jump [4]

5 Reasons How Massage Therapy Can Benefit Athletes - Swolverine

Massage Therapy May Reduce Muscle Fatigue

Muscle fatigue is defined as a loss of power due to a decline in force and velocity and is a subjective assessment. Several studies have shown positive results and impact on muscle fatigue from sports massage.

A double-blind randomized control trial, examined the effects of sports massage on muscle pain and perceived fatigue specifically on the quadriceps of 74 Ironman athletes, post triathlon. The study concluded that the massage group had significantly lower subjective pain and fatigue ratings[5]

Another study published in the Journal Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy examined the effect of massage and pneumatic compression for perceived fatigue and pain after an ultramarathon

72 finishers of the marathon were randomized into three groups (control, massage, and pneumatic compression). Those receiving massage had significantly reduced perceived fatigue ratings compared with control.[6]

Massage Therapy May Improve Range Of Motion And Mobility

Mobility is crucial to perform advanced gymnastics and Olympic lifting movements, for training modalities such as high-intensity functional training, CrossFit, HIIT, and Olympic Lifting.

Several studies have found that massage therapy for athletes can significantly improve flexibility, joint mobility, and range of motion through myofascial release. Results however are varied and show greater improvements with shorter duration massage, with immediate but no long-term effects on mobility. Sports massage can be an extremely effective technique to identify problem areas associated with inflammation, which may impede mobility to restore range of motion.

Massage Therapy May Reduce Stress, Anxiety, and Tension

Massage is commonly use in a capacity to reduce stress, tension, and anxiety. Many aspects of performance are psychological, and if you can effectively reduce tension, stress, and improve mood, then you can improve athletic performance and outcomes.

Several studies have found that positive perceptions of reduced anxiety, stress, and relaxation associated with massage therapy.[7]

5 Reasons How Massage Therapy Can Benefit Athletes - Swolverine

Sports Massage For Athletes: Takeaway

Sports massage can be a great way to improve workout recovery, reduce inflammation and enhance mobility. Although some studies are limited and more evidence is needed to conclude whether sports massage does have positive effects on performance, if an intervention makes an athlete feel better after exercise, then that is a positive evidence-based outcome. The psychological effects of sports massage alone can have a dramatic impact on performance, by relieving fatigue, anxiety, tension, and improving mood state. Overall, incorporating massage therapy into your recovery regimen, is a good way to feel better and recover faster.


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[1] Best TM, Hunter R, Wilcox A, Haq F.Effectiveness of sports massage for recovery of skeletal muscle from strenuous exercise. Clin J Sport Med. 2008 Sep;18(5):446-460. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e31818837a1. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

[2] Massage therapy for those who exercise. American Massage Therapy Association. Accessed January 5, 2020. Google Scholar

[3] Michelle Sriwongtong, Joshua Goldman, Yuka Kobayashi and Andrew W. GottschalkOchsner Journal June 2020, 20 (2) 121-122; DOI:

[4].Poppendieck W, Wegmann M, Ferrauti A, Kellmann M, Pfeiffer M, Meyer T. Massage and performance recovery: a meta-analytical review. Sports Med. 2016 Feb;46(2):183-204. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0420-x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

[5] Massage therapy decreases pain and perceived fatigue after long-distance Ironman triathlon: a randomised trial.Nunes GS, Bender PU, de Menezes FS, Yamashitafuji I, Vargas VZ, Wageck B. J Physiother. 2016 Apr; 62(2):83-7.[PubMed] [Ref list]

[6] A Randomized Controlled Trial of Massage and Pneumatic Compression for Ultramarathon Recovery. Hoffman MD, Badowski N, Chin J, Stuempfle KJ J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016 May; 46(5):320-6.[PubMed] [Ref list]

[7] Weinberg R, Jackson A, Kolodny K. The relationship of massage and exercise to mood enhancement. Sport Psychol. 1988;2(3):202-211 . doi: 10.1123/tsp.2.3.202. CrossRefGoogle Scholar


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