Cyclists have always known that sore legs after a tough race recover faster after a good massage. How this rapid recovery is established, was not clear. Canadian researchers gave the answer. They describe in Science Translation Medicine what happens in muscle cells when they are firmly molded by the hands of an experienced soigneur. The answer: after a massage the damaged muscles are repaired faster.

The researchers asked eleven young men to cycle, as long as possible, at a solid pace on an exercise bike. Shortly after this effort one of their legs was massaged for ten minutes.

On three occasions, from both thigh muscles, a small amount of muscle tissue was taken for further investigations: before the exercise test, ten minutes after the massage, and three hours later.

Muscles respond with a kind of inflammatory response on a strenuous exercise. The effect of a massage on this reaction is a faster recovery of the muscle cells. By pressure on the muscle cells, through the massage, fewer inflammatory substances are released.

In addition, massaged muscle cells create faster mitochondria. These are the energy factories which do not only supply energy but are also of interest for the repair of the damage that occurs after a strenuous exercise.

Until now, there was the idea that lactic acid and other waste products are removed more quickly from the muscles through massage. The study found no evidence for this. The lactic acid content in the non-massaged and massaged leg did not differ.

CONCLUSION: muscle damage caused by physical exertion recovers faster by massage.

Science Translation Medicine
Sci Transl Med 1 February 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 119, p 119ra13
Sci. Transl. Med. DOI: 10.1126/scitransimed.3002882

Massage Dirk Nachtergaele

Massage in the hotel room after the race.