The Benefits of Sports Massage

man getting massage
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Many elite athletes consider sports massage an essential part of their training and recovery routine, and even non-athletes find the benefits of massage helpful. These athletes report that a sports massage helps them train more effectively, improve performance, prevent injury, and recover quickly. 

Historically, competitive and professional athletes have been some of the biggest users of sports massage. Today, a growing number of massage therapists offer therapeutic sports massage and many recreational athletes enjoy sports massage on a regular basis.


Therapeutic sports massage is a type of massage technique, similar to deep tissue massage, that focuses on treating soft tissue aches, pain, and injuries that are associated with recreational activities. Massage can reduce muscle stiffness and improve relaxation by reducing heart rate and blood pressure.


While many athletes are convinced of the physical benefit of massage, research on its effectiveness is accumulating. Massage involves applying mechanical pressure to the soft tissues, and this is has been linked with improved muscle flexibility, decreased muscle adhesions,  increased range of motion in the joints, and decreased muscle stiffness.

Researchers at McMaster University reported that deep massage after an intense workout actually causes muscles to enlarge and grow new mitochondria. Mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells, are responsible for converting nutrients into useful energy.

For this study, the researchers had men to exercise to exhaustion on stationary bicycles. After the workout, the men had a Swedish-style deep-tissue massage on one leg for 10 minutes. Muscle biopsies were taken from one quadriceps muscle before and after the workout, and from both muscles immediately after a 10-minute massage of one leg, and again two and a half hours later. The deep-tissue massage increased the size and number of new mitochondria more than exercising without massage. Increasing mitochondria can improve endurance performance by increasing the rate that muscles can utilize oxygen.

The pressure of massage may also improve blood flow during the massage and increase muscle temperature. Massage reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. Most people report a feeling of pure relaxation, reduced anxiety, and improved mood as a result. Athletes may indeed find an edge in these psychological benefits.

For most athletes, enjoying less muscle stiffness and improving relaxation and well-being is reason enough to enjoy regular massage. But as research continues to grow on the real physical benefits of massage, more and more athletes will be taking advantage of this 'feel-good' training method.

How to Find a Qualified Massage Therapist

To get the most benefit and enjoyment from massage, it's important to find a qualified and credentialed massage therapist. Ask any potential therapists about their credentials, specialized training, and the type of massage techniques they most often use.

To find a therapist in your area you can search the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB)'s Find A Nationally Certified Practitioner database or the American Massage Therapy Association's (AMTA) "Find a Massage Therapist" database.

The AMTA recommends asking the following questions:

  • Did you graduate from a program accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)?
  • Are you licensed or registered as a massage therapist in this state?
  • Are you certified by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork?
  • Do you have training in any specific massage modalities?
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Article Sources
  • Science Translational Medicine, published online Feb, 2012
  • Weerapong, Pornratshanee 1; Hume, Patria A 1; Kolt, Gregory S 2, The Mechanisms of Massage and Effects on Performance, Muscle Recovery and Injury Prevention. Sports Medicine. 35(3):235-256, 2005.