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It's unclear, based on current research, whether massage therapy for post-exercise muscle soreness and recovery actually helps or not, the authors of a new review on the topic conclude.
"More standardized research needs to be done," Furqan Haq, PhD, of the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus said.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence for its benefits, massage is widely believed to help ease muscle recovery after exercise and even improve performance when administered before competition, Haq and colleagues note in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. They reviewed 27 studies that employed a wide variety of approaches; for example, massaging different parts of the body, using different massage techniques, and massaging for different amounts of time. None of the studies specified the amount of force applied during massage.
Evidence for massage's benefits from the 17 case series was questionable, the researchers concluded, but the 10 randomized controlled trials provided "moderate evidence for the efficacy of massage therapy." Their analysis suggested that massage was most effective when given within two hours of exercise, Haq noted.
Future research should use a standardized massage protocol, should examine the effectiveness of massage given before exercise, and should also investigate the effects of giving several massage sessions, rather than just one, Haq said. He and his colleagues are also using rabbits in laboratory studies to evaluate the biological effects of massage on exercise recovery.