A recent study found massage may aid in recovery, particularly among women, from the temporary state of immunosuppression often induced by exercise.

“Massage after exercise—responses of immunologic and endocrine makers: A randomized single-blind placebo-controlled study” involved 60 healthy, active subjects, all of whom were university students. Twenty-three of the subjects were women, while 37 were men.

Each participant underwent two exercise sessions at least two weeks apart and at the same time of day. The first session served to familiarize subjects with the exercise protocol. After the second session of exercise, subjects were randomly assigned to receive either 40 minutes of massage therapy or 40 minutes of sham electrotherapy.

Saliva samples were taken before and after each of the two exercise sessions and also after the massage or placebo intervention. Levels of salivary cortisol, immunoglobulin A (sIgA) and total protein were evaluated to determine the effects of massage on endocrine and immune functions of healthy, active people after intense exercise.

The recovery massage protocol involved 40 minutes of myofascial massage, using the techniques of John F. Barnes, John Upledger and Jon Vredevoogd. The massage therapist focused on the legs (gastronemious and biceps femoris), lower back, neck, face, skull and anterior thigh. Long strokes, J strokes, cross-hand technique, sustained pressure on occipital condyles and ear pulls were performed during these sessions.

The placebo protocol involved sham magnetotherapy and ultrasound. The regions addressed, subject position and duration matched the massage protocol.

Comparison of salivary levels before and after each exercise protocol showed a highly significant decrease in salivary flow rate, a highly significant increase in cortisol, a highly significant decrease in sIgA secretion rate and a highly significant increase in total proteins.

Comparison of salivary levels from baseline to post-recovery showed a tendency toward a decrease in salivary flow rate in both the massage and placebo groups. A significant increase in salivary cortisol was found in both intervention groups as well. A tendency toward an increase in total proteins was observed only in the massage group.

The postrecovery sIgA secretion rate significantly increased in the massage group, whereas this increase was not significant in the placebo group. Analysis by gender showed a significant increase in the sIgA secretion rate among women in the massage group and a nonsignificant increase among men.

“The main finding of this study was that, among the women, massage produced a greater recovery of the sIgA rate after intense exercise compared with sham treatment,” state the study’s authors. “The influence of gender on response to massage will be the subject of future study by our group.”

Authors: Manuel Arroyo-Morales, N. Olea, C. Ruiz, J.D. Luna del Casilo, M. Martínez, C. Lorenzo and C. Díaz-Rodríguez.

Sources: Department of Physical Therapy, University of Granada, High Performance Center at Altitude, Sierra Nevada, Granada, Spain; Laboratory of Medical Sciences, University of Granada, Granada, Spain; Federico Oloriz Neurosciences Institute, Nursing Department, University of Granada, Granada, Spain; Department of Statistics, University of Granada, Granada, Spain; and Sports and Exercise Faculty, University of Granada, Granada, Spain. Originally published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2009) 0(0): 1-7.

The research report of  “Massage Aids in Exercise Recovery,” is featured in the print edition of MASSAGE Magazine’s June 2009 issue.