When it comes to the question of whether massage can help ease the pain of muscle soreness, there aren’t many clear answers.
One study, published by The New York Times in 2012, concluded that it does; however, a closer look at that study showed there were only 11 participants. With such a small population sample, it’s difficult to make a scientific case. In fact, there is a history of mixed results from studies where scientists try to learn more about the effects of massage on sore muscles.
Equally mixed results have been found when addressing whether creams containing menthol and wintergreen oil are effective in easing the pain of sore muscles. Both menthol and methyl salicylate, which is the active ingredient in wintergreen oil, have been found to improve blood flow, and some scientists believe that creams with these ingredients create the illusion of pain relief because they make the skin feel cold and then warm, distracting the person from the feeling of pain in the muscles.
Regardless of the varied research, a massage after a workout feels good—plain and simple—and creams with menthol and wintergreen have been found to decrease pain, according to a 2010 study published in Clinical Therapeutics. When clients come to therapy with sore muscles, LMTs can often make them feel better.
There is no question that regular exercise improves overall health, and, unfortunately, soreness often accompanies exercise. Despite the lack of hard evidence, there are theories as to why massage may be helpful for people with sore muscles. Some experts believe exercise coupled with massage actually increases the number of mitochondria, which aid in muscle regrowth.
For clients who are athletes and frequently experience sore muscles or those with arthritis or other conditions that cause painful joints, creams with menthol and wintergreen may be helpful between therapy sessions, as well.
LMTs should make sure clients are not allergic to aspirin before using a cream that contains wintergreen. Some people are hyper-sensitive to menthol, as well, and may experience adverse effects. Before using any cream, LMTs should be sure to talk to patients about sensitivities and allergies.