Massages are often suggested as a recovery strategy.
There are a lot of claims of how massages may help muscle recovery. For example, by increasing blood flow and thus nutrient delivery to the muscle. Or by increasing blood flow and thus removal of ‘waste products’ from the muscle’. However, the evidence supporting these proposed mechanisms has not been very convincing.
A new study now suggests that massages might indeed be beneficial for muscle recovery. Rat hindlimb muscle were deloaded (this is not deloading from training, it’s hindlimb suspension so that the hindlimbs could not be used), which results in rapid muscle loss. The next step was to reload these muscles again, which results in muscle regain. When muscle massages were added, the rate of muscle regained was higher.
A very suprising finding was that massages on one of the rat legs, also increased the rate of muscle regain in the other leg (that was not massaged). This suggests a ‘crossover effect’.
The crossover effect means that if something happens in on limb, the other limb also benefits from it. If you train your left leg, it will become stronger. Even if you don’t train your right leg, it will still become a bit stronger as a result of the left leg being trained (but not as much as the leg you actually train).
However, a crossover effect on muscle mass gains has not been observed before. Even when training your left leg, it will not increase muscle mass of your right leg. Therefore, the observed crossover effect on muscle mass gains as a result of massage is a very interesting finding.
This study suggests that massages might be a promising recovery technique for athletes (and or muscle mass maintenance in aging or clinical populations). It’s a very cool study and has many more very good/difficult measurements. However, it was done in an animal model, so confirmation in humans is needed. In addition, muscle regain after deloading is different than improving muscle mass gains on top of habitual physical activity or a resistance training program.
Since massages are pretty enjoyable, it might be worth giving it a shot!
Jorn Trommelen PhD(c)