Massage Therapy improves Muscle Pain after Exercise

  • Tough workouts can leave you sore for days afterwards, so sore that walking, dressing and sleeping become difficult to do. Even the professional athletes cannot avoid the muscle pain that comes after strenuous physical exertion. But everyone can ease the discomfort with massage therapy.


    Physical exertion causes muscle pain for 5 to 7 days because of a series of reactions that take place in the body. First, there is an inflammatory reaction to extreme muscle work. Inflammation causes swelling and soreness immediately. This is followed by oxidative stress from free radicals and lactic acid build up. As a result of both the inflammation and oxidative stress, blood flow to the area is impeded. The lack of blood to the muscle is ultimately what leads to soreness for days.

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    Massage therapy targets this mechanism that causes muscle pain after physical exertion. There are many different types of massage therapy. The most popular style is Swedish massage. This soft, kneading style is very familiar to many athletes with sore muscles.  A swedish massage therapist will use two types of pressure: Petrissage (kneading) and effleurage (gliding). Both are done to help relieve muscle soreness.


    In a recent study of the effects of Swedish massage, researchers found that exercise-induced muscle injury caused inflammatory and oxidative-stress responses which then lead to reduced blood flow. After 30 minutes of massage, the blood flow improved. They hypothesized that the massage therapy may curtail the inflammatory response or at least hasten it.


    By improving blood flow and hastening inflammatory responses, massage therapy can shorten muscle recovery time after a workout. If the muscles recover quickly, training and sporting events are less likely to be interrupted by pain. This is why many professional sporting teams and athletes employ massage therapists. But this therapy is not beyond the means of an average weekend warrior. Massage therapy is more readily available than ever. Airports commonly have massage therapy stations. Shopping malls have them too. Some of the massage chairs by HumanTouch are amazingly realistic and available for home use. So unless you like being sore for days after a workout, you should consider adding massage therapy to your after-workout routine. However if your muscle pain is lasting for weeks, then you should talk to your doctor because that type of persistent muscle pain is not normal. Muscles that are normally painful after physical exercise respond well to massage therapy.




    1.  Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014 Jun;95(6):1127-34

    2.   Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2013 Jun 3;6(2):3-8.

    3.   Sci Transl Med. 2012 Feb 1;4(119):119ra13

Published On: September 27, 2014