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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Unhappy Endings for the Post Ride Massage

Like a lot of people I enjoy a good massage after a long ride or when my muscles feel beat all to hell. Unfortunately, a good massage is hard to find as nobody seems to put enough elbow grease into it and it just ends up tickling. Anyways... like most people I assumed the massage was a great way to recover. It unknots muscles and flushes the toxins and lactic acids that accumulate in the muscles during exercise.

The only problem is that... it doesn't flush out anything. Or at least that is the conclusion reached by Michael Tschakovsky, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

"The results, published in the latest issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, are a blow, at least to those of us who justify our massages as medicinal. It turned out that massage did not increase blood flow to the tired muscle; it reduced it. Every stroke, whether long and slow or deep and kneading, cut off blood flow to the forearm muscle. Although the flow returned to normal between strokes, the net effect was to lessen the amount of blood that reached the muscle, particularly compared with the amount that flowed to the forearm muscle during 10 minutes of passive recovery. Meanwhile, active recovery reduced blood flow as well, since muscular contractions, however slight, compress blood vessels in the muscle briefly. But the overall reduction of blood flow was significantly less during active recovery than during the massage session."

Although the conclusions of the study do not dispel all claims that massage after exercise is beneficial, but it does cast some doubt on the pseudo-scientific claims associated with massage therapy. Regardless if the feelings of recovery are a placebo or related to other aspects of therapeutic massage, if it works and is enjoyable... then I don't see any reason to stop.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew,

    Dont' worry, I have a feeling study is totally bogus. As a runner, and according to the knowledge I have (which will certainly be disproved right after I submit this comment. As a runner, massage is not really to increase blood flow, but rather to lengthen and relax muscles. Apparently when scar tissue (micro-tears) begin to heal they can fuse muscles together. These fused muscles can sometimes cause problems, and restrict them from acting independently, or performing their actual function. For example, your quads could activate your ITB (a stabilizer) and prevent it from functioning independently. So the purpose for the massage is really to break up this scar tissue in places where you don't want it, and separate the tissue (think about washing spaghetti with cold water to keep it from sticking together, or putting those dryer sheets in the dryer to keep your shirt from sticking to your socks)

    Here is an article from some smarter Canadians about this (search "glue"):