How to Use Massage for Post-Workout Recovery

Sports Massage at Race
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Exercising gets the endorphins going—you know you'll feel good after your session. But if it's been a while since you’ve worked out or you’ve decided to increase the intensity of your workout, you probably suspect your muscles are likely to be achy and sore. Stretching can help alleviate soreness and pain but there may be another option to consider after you exercise, like getting a massage.

“Post-workout massage can increase blood and lymph circulation, reduce inflammation, increase flexibility, and resolve muscle tightness and pain,” explains David Sol, DAc, LAc, LMT, CFMP, Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Pacific College of Health and Science.

“Massage therapy is a great adjunct to other healthy habits including staying hydrated during a workout, incorporating light movement and stretching along with conditioning and resistance exercises.”

Benefits of Post-Workout Massage 

Having a massage after a workout not only feels good but can be beneficial for the body. A massage post-workout can alleviate soreness by aiding circulation, help with flexibility and reduce pain and inflammation.

“The biggest benefit of massage is that it increases circulation and blood flow,” notes Marie Watkinson, LMT, New York State Licensed Massage Therapist and Physical Therapist Assistant with over 30 years of experience in the medical and sport massage setting and owns Watkinson Wellness Studio in Port Jefferson, New York.

“This movement brings oxygen to the muscles and washes away toxins/byproducts and the end result is a decrease of post-workout pain and soreness,” she continues. “Another benefit is increased flexibility of the muscle to bring it from a cramped to an elongated state—which restores range of motion.”

Receiving a massage from a professional massage therapist may not always be possible nor may there be sufficient time for a long one. The good news is, even a short massage can provide benefits for the body. “Post-race, or post-workout, even a 10–15 minute massage can be supportive of recovery,” says Lindy Royer, PT, NCPT, and Balanced Body Master Instructor.

Massage can also minimize the effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is when a person notices muscle stiffness or pain a day or two after their workout.

This usually occurs when you’ve started to exercise after a hiatus or have increased the intensity and length. One study showed that massage may be effective in decreasing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and aiding in muscle performance.

In another study, there wasn’t sufficient evidence that sports massage aids in muscle performance but it might be beneficial for delayed onset muscle soreness as well as flexibility.

“Massage is a great way to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and potentially decrease the time spent recovering for a hard workout or competition,” explains Royer. “To reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the current recommendation for massage is the sooner the better, however, most initial research concludes that more studies are needed to be more specific about this recommendation.” 

Types of Massage for Post Workout

There are many types of massage that can be considered for post-workout recovery. Here are several options to keep on deck, as well as some to avoid.

Relaxation  Massage (Swedish Massage)

“In this type of massage, a therapist will provide lots of long, flowing strokes along with some gentle kneading and grasping of the muscle to promote relaxation,” describes Sol.  “Post-workout, relaxation massage can assist in the body recovering and relaxing.”

Shiatsu

This is a type of massage that originates from Japan. is conducted on a futon-style mat and the person remains clothed, Sol notes. “Shiatsu incorporates acupressure and works along the acupuncture channels of the body and incorporates many more stretches.”

Deep Tissue Massage

“In deep tissue massage, sometimes called orthopedic massage or clinical massage, a therapist will focus on muscle and other soft tissue specific issues and try to resolve them,” according to Sol. “That is, the therapist’s goal is to find and treat soft tissue dysfunctions such as trigger points or “knots,” fascial adhesions, and other restrictions.”

Typically deep tissue massage isn’t recommended after a workout because it’s intense and could increase inflammation. “This form of massage should be done between workouts and not necessarily on the same day as a vigorous workout to avoid creating more inflammation,” says Sol. Watkinson adds, “Deep massage is not indicated post-workout.”

Self Massage

Self massage is when you perform a massage on yourself. Sol explains, “This can incorporate any style of massage as long as it’s performed by the recipient on one’s self.” Watkinson adds, “You can certainly self-massage the arms or legs post-workout. You can do compression and squeezing techniques to release toxins and then do a series of light stretches with long holds.” 

Massage Guns

Massage guns are gadgets used for self-massage and relieving muscle soreness but can be intense with quick pulsing on your muscles. “I traditionally do not advise using machine guns directly after a workout as it can be quite intense on the body,” Watkinson. “If you want to use a massage gun, I would use the biggest attachment possible on a light setting and use it in an upward movement.”

Reflexology

This is a type of massage that focuses on applying different types of pressure on the hands, feet, and ears. “I like activating the point Spleen 4—which is in the depression below the base of the 1st metatarsal bone which is a point used for general relaxation,” says Watkinson.

How to Include Massage Into Your Post-Workout Routine

So you’ve decided you’d like to include massage into your post-exercise routine. If you’re wondering what are some best practices, massage therapists offer up considerations and helpful tips.  

Deciding and choosing a massage therapist is important. “Always use a Licensed Massage Therapist who preferably has Sports Massage or medical massage background,” says Watkinson.

The timing of your massage can influence how you feel. “Consider getting a massage on the same day as a workout when you want your body to relax and recover,” says Sol. 

Incorporating massage into your post-workout habits doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. “Be consistent," encourages Royer.  “Build 10–15 minutes of self-massage into your post-workout recovery plan.” She also recommends, “Combine this with periodic in-person massages with a licensed therapist once a month for your ongoing massage care.”

Our bodies are constantly communicating with us. Yet it’s easy to not pay attention or choose to ignore our bodies but there are usually consequences. “Listen to your body—if you are experiencing pain or discomfort during your post-workout massage—speak up and have them lighten the pressure,” explains Watkinson. 

Royer agrees, “When it comes to massage, pain does not necessarily equal gain.” If you’re not sure, observe your breath. “A good guideline is to check your breath—if the technique or tool is so uncomfortable you cannot take a full, deep breath, it’s an indication you’re going too hard, and this may lead to increased muscle tension and pain," she says. "Back off a bit and be patient as you allow the body to work with you."

Safety and Precautions

Although receiving a massage can alleviate muscle soreness, there are some precautions to take. Make sure to choose a type of massage that is adequate for a post-workout. “You want to avoid deep tissue massage or trigger point work after a post-workout, as your muscles are prone to injury at this time,” explains Watkinson.

Sol adds, “Avoid any deep tissue work on the same day as performing a very vigorous workout. This will avoid creating more inflammation.”

Another important factor is to inform the massage therapist why you’re there. “Let your massage therapist know that you have just been working out before you get a massage,” says Sol.

And when you’re not feeling well, not only is it a good idea to postpone working out but also avoid any type of body work. “If you are recovering from an illness such as a cold, flu, or other infection, avoid massage therapy and exercise, too,” says Sol. “Rest instead.” 

A Word From Verywell

If you have achy or tense muscles after exercising, massage could be a beneficial option for post-workout recovery. Massage can provide relief for sore muscles and aid with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as well as help with blood circulation and even flexibility.

There are many kinds of massage to consider, including giving yourself a short self-massage after a workout. Make sure to seek out professional massage therapists and let them know that you’ve just worked out so they know to be gentler when massaging your body.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What type of massage is best post-workout?

    There are many different types of massages you can consider for post-workout recovery. Some massage therapists recommend relaxation massage, Shiatsu, or self massage. Choosing the type of massage that is best will depend on your body and your body’s needs.

  • Is it good to massage sore muscles after a workout?

    Yes, massaging sore muscles can be beneficial after a workout. According to some massage therapists, massage can increase blood flow and aid in circulation which helps in flushing out toxins in the body. Massage can aid in post-workout recovery. 

  • Does massage hinder muscle growth?

    No, massage doesn’t hinder muscle growth. Massage can actually aid in promoting muscle length.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dupuy O, Douzi W, Theurot D, Bosquet L, Dugué B. An evidence-based approach for choosing post-exercise recovery techniques to reduce markers of muscle damage, soreness, fatigue, and inflammation: a systematic review with meta-analysisFront Physiol. 2018;9:403. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00403

  2. Davis HL, Alabed S, Chico TJA. Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2020 May 7;6(1):e000614. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000614.

  3. Guo J, Li L, Gong Y, et al. Massage alleviates delayed onset muscle soreness after strenuous exercise: a systematic review and meta-analysisFront Physiol. 2017;8:747. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00747

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