To top athletes and anyone else who exercises a lot or has put him or herself through the rigours of a marathon or triathlon, a regular massage is considered almost as essential to keeping the body in condition as diet and training. After all, the kind of deep-tissue massage practised by registered sports massage therapists promises to increase blood flow to aching muscles and flush out metabolic waste products such as lactic acid after a hard workout.
Nothing could be better for your aching limbs. Or could it? In a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual conference in Seattle this week, researchers claimed to have blown the myth that massage speeds up recovery from exercise. Professor Michael Tschavovsky of the health studies department at Queens University in Ontario, Canada, says that while most massage therapists believe that their work boosts circulation to the muscles and reduces fatigue, no study before his had tested the validity of this theory.
Tschavovsky asked 12 healthy male subjects to perform isometric hand-grip exercises for two minutes at a time while he and his team measured blood flow and lactic acid build-up every 30 seconds and for ten minutes after the exercise had finished. They also took the same measurements during rest, when the subjects had massage and during “active recovery” such as gentle jogging, walking or stretching. What they found was that massage did not increase — but decreased — blood flow to the muscles and hindered rather than improved the removal of lactic acid and other waste materials by as much as 25 per cent compared to “active recovery”.