One of the most common reasons clients seek massage therapy is to find relief for muscle soreness. This sparked the curiosity of the Massage Therapy Foundation and a team of researchers (Franklin and colleagues), who put together a study to better understand the effect massage can have on muscular injury and soreness.
The purpose of the study was to investigate the issues that develop after exercise-induced muscle injury of the lower extremities (specifically, systemic endothelial dysfunction of the brachial artery), as well as determine if massage therapy to the lower extremities reduces these issues by improving blood flow. The consensus prior to the study was that massage therapy after injury would protect the muscles against impairment.
The study consisted of a randomized, blinded trial of 36 sedentary young adults and was performed at a medical center and laboratory. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- Exposure to exercise-induced muscle injury followed by massage therapy treatment
- Exercise-induced muscle injury without massage therapy treatment
- Massage therapy treatments without exercise-induced muscle injury
To induce muscle injury, a single bout of bi-lateral leg press exercises was performed by the participants. The massage therapy treatments included a 30-minute leg massage using Swedish techniques from superficial to deep. Massages were performed by a licensed and certified massage therapist.
In group 1 and 3 (exercise-induced muscle injury + massage therapy and massage therapy only), the results showed upper extremity blood flow increased at 90 minutes-72 hours post treatment. In group 2 (exercise-induced muscle injury only), blood flow was reduced at 24-48 hours post injury, returning to normal after 72 hours.
The bottom line: the results showed massage therapy improves blood flow, lessens muscle impairment resulting from lower-extremity exercise-induced muscle injury (in sedentary young adults), and protects muscles from reduced muscle function and blood flow. Even without muscle injury, massage treatment improved blood flow to muscles.
These results not only support massage therapy as benefiting the overall blood flow of the body, but also suggest how massage helps relieve aching muscles and promotes faster recovery from exercise-induced muscle injury. It is common knowledge among massage therapists that massage improves the body’s circulation, which in turn improves overall health and wellness – this study supports these claims.