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September 3rd, 2021

Does Massage Work?

by Cuyler Hudson, PT, DPT, FAFS

Massage is one of the most controversial topics in sports medicine. Almost everyone will tell you they feel better after getting one, almost all of the best athletes get them regularly, and almost all of the best physical therapy practitioners use some form of soft tissue treatment regularly. However, almost all of the research on massage has dubbed it largely ineffective in improving performance. So what gives? 

The problem with the research on massage is that researchers tend to look at massage in isolation. Does massage alone affect muscle recovery and therefore future performance? Does it improve range of motion? The answers to these questions almost always tend to be yes, for a very short amount of time, but the results don’t last long enough to be of much value to performance. This is not consistent with how soft tissue treatments are used by skilled manual therapists, however. 

Therapists know that the effects of massage are temporary, and ineffective as a stand alone treatment. What massage does is buy a window of time where muscles function better. The evidence is clear: tissue extensibility is improved, and muscle oxygenation is improved. Your connective tissue and muscles have a better ability to slide and glide across one another, making them more efficient, and less painful for the short term. This is extremely useful for therapists looking to optimize movement. In fact, it is very common that soft tissue restrictions are the limiting factors in an athlete’s ability to perform a desired movement, whether it be improving ankle dorsiflexion, pelvic tilt, scapular depression, ribcage expansion, etc. If we can even for a small window of time remove this restriction, and perform some targeted interventions to improve a person’s movement, then we are far more likely to get these changes to stick permanently. 

What this ultimately means is that massage IS an extremely useful tool, and anyone looking to improve their body’s functionality SHOULD be getting massages. However, if you’re looking for more than relaxation, it’s important to follow it up with movement work. It just might make all the difference in your program.

Curious to give it a try? Get “hands-on” with Finish Line Physical Therapy. Our Myofascial Massage + Movement session which utilizes the Gray Institutes’s Functional Soft Tissue Transformation (FSTT) method is a comprehensive soft tissue treatment that may also include some movement, depending on the specific needs of each person. Through soft tissue manipulation, massage, and movement, we will identify and resolve restrictions and any dysfunction that may be hindering your performance.

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