Sports massage is one of the most frequently applied interventions to enhance recovery before, during, or after the activity. Keeping in mind that the sports massage industry has constant growth and an increase in the number of professional therapists and massage devices on the market, there is an evident need to answer those long awaiting questions about the scientifically proven benefits of sports massage.
The latest study published on this subject simultaneously represents the largest review of sports massage so far conducted.
A group of researchers from the Department of Infection, Immunity & Cardiovascular Disease, University of Sheffield, UK, searched PubMed, MEDLINE, and Cochrane to identify randomized studies that tested the effects of manual massage on performance and recovery. They performed separate meta-analyses on performance-related (strength, jump, sprint, endurance, flexibility) and recovery-related (fatigue and DOMS) massage effects.
As there is no universal sports massage definition, for this study, they defined it as manual manipulation of muscles and soft tissue by a qualified professional to improve performance in or recovery from the sport. Eligible studies evaluated the effect of manual massage on human participants in a randomized study, including assessment of performance or recovery. Non-randomized studies using non-manual massage were excluded.
Overall, 29 studies met eligibility criteria with 12 RCTs (randomized control trials) and 17 randomized crossover studies. A total of 1012 participants were included.
The effects of sports massage on strength performance (A)
Meta-analysis of these studies found that massage had no overall effect on strength.
The effect of sports massage on jump performance (B)
Meta-analysis of these studies found that massage had no overall effect on jump performance.
The effects of sports massage on muscle fatigue (C)
The meta-analysis found no significant effect of massage on fatigue.
The effect of sports massage on sprint performance
The meta-analysis found that massage had no overall effect on sprint performance.
The effects of sports massage on endurance performance
Meta-analysis of these studies found that massage had no overall effect on endurance.
The effects of sports massage on flexibility (A)
Meta-analysis of these studies found that massage significantly increased flexibility scores by 7%.
The effects of sports massage on DOMS (B)
Meta-analysis of these studies found that massage was associated with a statistically significant 13% improvement in DOMS measures after exercise.
Manual Sports Massage does not improve performance but can improve flexibility and reduce pain/DOMS.
Davis HL, Alabed S, Chico TJAEffect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2020;6:e000614. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000614