We know that exercise is absolutely vital to controlling weight, improving fitness and sport performance. We also know that high intensity exercise is required to enhance performance and challenge the body to adapt and improve.

Exercise-induced muscle damage

One of the drawbacks (if there is one) of high intensity exercise is exercise-induced muscle damage.


This occurs from sudden active stretching of the muscle-tendon unit through unaccustomed or overtraining exercise and is frequently observed in athletes, weight lifters, recreational athletes, and ordinary persons who don’t exercise regularly (1).

The damage that occurs in the muscle is characterized by pain, disturbed proprioception, decreases in strength and power, inflammation, and delayed onset muscle soreness (2). Such things as electrical stimulation, cryotherapy, massage and drugs are used to alleviate muscle damage (3) in order to help the healing process.

Why use massage?

Therapeutic massage is often used as a treatment to recover from muscle fatigue or damage. The benefits of massage include an increase in local blood and lymph flow, decreased edema, reduces muscular tone and enhances mood (4).

It’s also suggested massage decreases the stress hormone cortisol and increases levels of serotonin and dopamine (5).

Recent evidence on massage

A recent study was designed to identify the effects of massage on the gastrocnemius muscle following exercise-induced muscle damage.

Results demonstrated that massage enhanced Electromyography (EMG) activity in the gastrocnemius muscle which resulted in changes of structure properties in the superficial layer of the gastrocnemius (6). Basically, the massage caused the muscle to work much more effectively.

Benefits of sport massages_2What can massage do?

It was clear that therapeutic sports massage on the gastrocnemius muscle following exercise-induced muscle damage affected muscular strength by attenuating the decrement in strength. It’s important to note that massage treatment should last at least 10 minutes per body part to be effective (7).

Proprioception is a specialized sensory modality that incorporates the sensation of joint motion and join position.

Normal muscle coordination and timing depends on joint position sense which plays a crucial role in joint stability. Massage helped recover joint position sense can cause a decline in performance or possibly, a sports injury (8).

Therefore, this research demonstrated that massage was effective to restore muscular strength and joint position sense following muscle damage.

It’s believed that the mechanical action of massage may encourage a return to more normal muscle fiber alignment (i.e. healthier muscle tissue). This helps facilitate recovery of muscle function, overcomes fatigue and enhances performance (9).


It’s clear that sports massage intended for exercise-induced muscle damage can improve proprioceptive accuracy and muscle strength due to changes in the superficial layer of the gastrocnemius muscle.

Based on recent evidence, sports massage can be used as a beneficial tool after exercise-induced muscle damage.

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1. Kawakami Y, Abe T, Fukunaga T. Muscle-fiber pennation angles are greater in hypertrophied than in normal muscles. Journal of applied physiology. Jun 1993;74(6):2740-2744.
2. Proske U, Morgan DL. Muscle damage from eccentric exercise: mechanism, mechanical signs, adaptation and clinical applications. The Journal of physiology. Dec 1 2001;537(Pt 2):333-345.
3. Guilhem G, Hug F, Couturier A, et al. Effects of air-pulsed cryotherapy on neuromuscular recovery subsequent to exercise-induced muscle damage. The American journal of sports medicine. Aug 2013;41(8):1942-1951.
4. Zainuddin Z, Newton M, Sacco P, Nosaka K. Effects of massage on delayed-onset muscle soreness, swelling, and recovery of muscle function. Journal of athletic training. Jul-Sep 2005;40(3):174-180.
5. Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. The International journal of neuroscience. Oct 2005;115(10):1397-1413.
6. Shin MS, Sung YH. Effects of Massage on Muscular Strength and Proprioception After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. Aug 2015;29(8):2255-2260.
7. Moraska A. Sports massage. A comprehensive review. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. Sep 2005;45(3):370-380.
8. Torres R, Ribeiro F, Alberto Duarte J, Cabri JM. Evidence of the physiotherapeutic interventions used currently after exercise-induced muscle damage: systematic review and meta-analysis. Physical therapy in sport : official journal of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine. May 2012;13(2):101-114.
9. Ce E, Limonta E, Maggioni MA, Rampichini S, Veicsteinas A, Esposito F. Stretching and deep and superficial massage do not influence blood lactate levels after heavy-intensity cycle exercise. Journal of sports sciences. 2013;31(8):856-866.


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