Sports Massage Therapy

How Does Sports Massage Affect Performance?

Dr. Carl Clarkson
Dr. Carl Clarkson March 31, 2022
Swimmer in lane

Sports massage is known to be a somewhat effective recovery treatment that athletes rely on after intense exercise and events, but what are the limits of its effectiveness, and can it affect performance? In this article, we look into whether or not sports massage can affect or improve athletic performance, or if it is more suited as a recovery treatment.

So, how does sports massage affect performance? The benefits of sports massage, such as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) reduction and improved flexibility, may have an indirect impact on athletic performance, however research has not conclusively proven to directly affect performance.

Read on to learn more about the relationship between sports massage and athletic performance. 

Can Sports Massage Affect Performance?

A study conducted by The University of Sheffield, in conjunction with The British Medical Journal concluded that sports massage may have an indirect effect on performance in relation to DOMS, reduced muscle fatigue, and improved flexibility. However, their research states that sports massage is unlikely to directly impact athletic performance. 

The study goes on to discuss how sports massage can impact a number of athletic factors, and how they affect performance. 

The Effects of Sports Massage on Jump Performance

In a review of 12 studies, researchers concluded that sports massage may impact jump performance in situations where sports massage is given at the point of muscle fatigue, almost acting as a recovery technique. This allowed participants to return to a baseline performance standard. 

The Effects of Sports Massage on Sprint Performance

In one study that focused on high intensity sprint cycles, researchers found that massage in between sprint cycles had a significant effect on performance on the next cycle. 

The Effects of Sports Massage on Muscle Fatigue

Various studies (1, 2, 3) across different sports concluded that sports massage has a positive impact on perceived muscle fatigue. In one study, researchers also found evidence that sports massage may help to reduce pain in relation to muscle fatigue, although this result is not shared with other studies. 

The Effects of Sports Massage on Flexibility

Multiple studies (1, 2) report that a particular type of massage,  dynamic soft tissue mobilisation (DSTM), has a positive effect on hamstring length, and therefore flexibility. Likewise, there is evidence to suggest that petrissage and tapotement techniques may have a positive effect on joint flexibility. 

The Effects of Sports Massage on DOMS

In a review of several studies around the effectiveness of sports massage on DOMS, researchers found that massage reduced DOMS by 13% post-exercise. They go on to say that sports massage for DOMS may be most effective in sports that are more likely to induce DOMS, and in cases where repeated performance before recovery is required (e.g multi-day events). Furthermore, they also suggest that sports massage for DOMS could be beneficial in situations where analgesic use is restricted.

Why is Sports Massage Good for Athletes?

As we’ve already highlighted, research suggests that sports massage can have a positive effect on a number of performance factors. In turn, these positive effects may indirectly benefit performance, particularly with ongoing treatment, or in conjunction with complimentary interventions such as acupuncture

What’s more, experts (1, 2) suggest that regular sports massage may help to indirectly improve performance by reducing the risk of injury. Other key benefits of sports massage for athletes include:

  • Increased range of motion
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased sense of wellbeing
  • Decreases recovery time
  • Decreased muscle tension
  • Decreased muscle spasms
  • Better sleep

Final Thoughts

Sports massage holds a number of benefits for athletes, indirectly affecting performance by reducing recovery time, improving flexibility and range of motion, and reducing the risk of injury. However, many studies report that sports massage does not directly impact performance. 

As a massage therapist, you have the skills and knowledge to benefit a number of conditions, but if you’re interested in introducing sports massage to your practice, or would like to target athletes, Breeze Academy offers both level 3 and level 4 sports massage training courses, as well as a combined course that will allow you to increase your skill set, and start offering new services. 

Take a look at our sports massage courses online today, or get in touch with us for more information.

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