Posted 16/09/2020 in Category 1

Does Sports Massage Improve Performance and Recovery?

Does Sports Massage Improve Performance and Recovery?


Sports massage is common across all levels of sport. It is used for injury prevention and rehabilitation and has also been proposed to have physical and psychological benefits in preparing for competition. Sports massage involves the manual manipulation of soft tissue and muscles to benefit a person engaged in regular physical activity. A recent study by Davis et al (2019) explored the effects of sports massage on performance and recovery using a systematic review and meta analysis.  

In a systematic review a detailed search strategy is used to identify, appraise, and synthesize all relevant studies on a particular topic. In meta-analysis, which often accompanies a systematic review, statistical techniques are used to synthesize the data from several studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size (See Uman, 2011 for more information). 

In the study by Davis et al they identified 41,046 articles relating to their key search terms, from which 41,009 were removed as duplicates and this left 37 articles assessed for eligibility and 29 studies were included in the final paper. These studies met the criteria of randomised studies (12 randomised control trials, 17 randomised crossover studies) that tested the effects of sports massage on sports performance and recovery. Separate meta-analyses were performed examining the effect of massage on measures of sporting performance (strength, jump, sprint, endurance and flexibility) and recovery (fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness - DOMS). A brief overview of the findings are below:


  • There was no overall effect of sports massage on recovery of strength after exercise (12 studies)
  • There was no overall effect of sports massage on jump performance (5 studies)
  • There was no overall effect of sports massage on sprint performance (7 studies)
  • There was no overall effect of sports massage on endurance (3 studies).
  • There was no overall effect of sports massage on fatigue (4 studies)
  • Sports massage significantly increase flexibility by 7% (7 studies).
  • Sports massage significantly reduced DOMS by 13% (10 studies). 


Overall the present study finds no evidence that sports massage improves performance directly, although it does improve flexibility and DOMS. While this was a comprehensive and well-conducted review this does not mean that sports massage has no effects on performance. As Davis et al note most studies recruited small numbers of participants and the effect size of massage may be too small to be easily detected with low numbers. This may particularly be the case if there are individual differences in how people respond to massage with some people seeing large effects and others little or none. Of course while we have used the broad term sports massage in this article, this covers a range of different massage techniques and approaches which again may differ in the strengths of effectiveness with individuals. As a result Davis et al suggest that given the huge number of potential massage regimens and timing, it is not possible to conclude that massage cannot improve performance. And that if the correct approach and timing could be identified stronger effects may be present.  This survey while illustrating the positive effects of sports massage for flexibility and DOMS does point the need for further research into performance effects. 


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Reference

Davis HL, Alabed S, Chico TJA. Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2020;6:e000614. doi:10.1136/ bmjsem-2019-000614