We all know that a post-race or post-workout massage feels good. But do you know what it actually does for your muscles? That’s tricky to figure out, thanks to the inevitable placebo effect that accompanies a good massage.
To find out actual effects of post-exercise massage, researchers at Ohio State University have been studying rabbits. They induce fatigue with a series of leg muscle contractions, then use a machine to deliver “cyclic compressive forces” designed to simulate sports massage.
The group’s latest results, presented this spring at the American College of Sports Medicine conference, proved significant improvements in muscle recovery after having a good massage.
The massaged rabbit legs had 14% more newly formed blood vessels, and the amount of scar tissue was reduced from 15% in the non-massaged leg to 7% in the massaged leg. There was also an increase in regenerating muscle fibers, with the best benefits from massage immediately after workout rather than delayed by 24 or 48 hours.
Using findings from animal experiments on humans is always tricky, but the results suggest that the benefits of massage aren’t just in your head.