Many athletes include massage as part of their training programs, usually at the event post-race or later in the week. But does it help you as an athlete?
An article I recently read “Does Massage Have A Benefit To Athletes?” does a nice job of addressing this issue. The article breaks down massage into 1) pre-event, 2)post-event and 3) recovery (I would call maintenance) massage. I have never been a fan of pre-event massage. Few athletes have the patience to lie on the table, at least I don’t. The massage will relax you, but could cause decreased muscle strength something you don’t want before a big event.
Post-event massage is often provided at races, and I don’t think it hurts, but I also don’t think it helps that much. One study showed that massage immediately post-activity decreased blood flow, and inhibited the removal of lactate and other metabolic byproducts. But in other studies, the results showed that massage may help boost immune function after exercise as well as help heart rate and blood pressure recover to pre-excercise levels.
So you could get a post-event massage if you want, especially if you don’t have to wait long in line. But in general I suggest, as the best way to recover from a race/event, an active post-event cool down (like a short jog) instead of standing in a long line for a quick massage.
It is the maintenance massage that I am most interested in as an athlete and a massage therapist. That is where the real work of going deep and releasing muscle tension can occur. The temporary loss of muscle strength post-massage, at this time, is inconsequential (unless you plan on doing a hard workout post-massage, which I suggest you don’t).
Overall the data is mixed regarding the benefits of massage as a tool for recovery. Massage has been shown to increase relaxation, decrease muscle soreness (in some studies), and aid in recovery. More specifically “Massage did demonstrate specific benefit to aid in the recovery of damage caused by repetitive muscular contractions, such as endurance exercise, as opposed to an acute injury cause by a single motion.” And of course, many studies have found that massage is relaxing (decreasing heart rate and blood pressure).
In closing, as an athlete (who has received massage for the past 18 years), and as a massage therapist of athletes for the past 7 years, I have found that maintenance massage can greatly benefit the athlete and help keep them healthy.