Massage is more than a way to relax. A study, published in the journal archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, showed massage therapy relieves muscle soreness and improves overall blood flow in people after exercise.

The study enlisted a randomly selected group of 36 healthy, but sedentary, adults from 18 to 40 years old to determine the effects of massage after exercise. Participants were then randomly placed into one of three groups; two groups would study the affects of exercise-induced muscle injury (EMI). Fifteen participants would study the affects of the EMI and massage, where the other 10 did the exercises without massage. The final group of 11 received massage only without the prior workout.

Those in EMI groups did a single set of leg presses designed to cause leg trauma. Those in the massage groups received Swedish massage in the leg regain for 30 minutes. Evaluations where then carried out after 90 minutes, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours for all three groups after the exercise.

Both the massage and non-massage groups rated their muscle soreness about equally upon completion of the leg presses.

Those who receive the massages reported the soreness dissipated 90 minutes after the massage treatment. However, those who didn’t receive the massages reported leg-pain remained 24 hours after the exercise.

Researchers also measured the blood flow of each study participant during the evaluations. They discovered those who receive massage also showed improved blood flow at all of the evaluations.

“The big surprise was the massage-only control group, who showed virtually identical levels of improvement in circulation as the exercise and massage group,” said Shane Phillips, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at University of Illinois at Chicago, in the news release. “The circulatory response was sustained for a number of days, which suggests that massage may be protective.”

The researchers concluded that massage therapy when implemented after exercise would accelerate muscle healing and improve blood flow. Researches also noted that message has a positive affect in people with poor circulation and limited mobility.

“Our study validates the value of massage in exercise and injury, which has been previously recognized but based on minimal data,” said Nina Cherie Franklin, study first author and a postdoctoral fellow in physical therapy at UIC. “It also suggests the value of massage outside of the context of exercise.”

As a results of the study there is a better understanding of how massage after exercise will accelerate the overall healing of the muscles. But in addition, deep tissue Swedish massage is beneficial for opening blood ways and improving the overall circulation with or with out exercise.