Research Exclusive: Massage, Active Exercise Relieve Muscle Soreness, MASSAGE MagazineA recent study has shown both massage and active exercise help provide acute relief of delayed onset muscle soreness.

The study, “Acute effects of massage or active exercise in relieving muscle soreness: Randomized controlled trial,” involved 20 healthy women with a mean age of 32 years.

In order to induce delayed onset muscle soreness, these volunteers were instructed to perform eccentric contractions for the upper trapezius muscle, using a Biodex dynamometer. Forty-eight hours later, the delayed onset muscle soreness presented, and the subjects were asked to return to the research laboratory to receive massage and active exercise interventions.

“First, one treatment was randomly applied to one shoulder while the contralateral shoulder served as passive control,” state the study’s authors. “Two hours later, the contralateral resting shoulder received the other treatment.”

In other words, the women first received either 10 minutes of massage or active exercise on one of their sore shoulders, and then two hours later received 10 minutes of the opposite intervention on their other sore shoulder.

The 10-minute massage protocol involved both petrissage and effleurage, and the pressure used was adapted to each subject’s level of soreness. The 10-minute active exercise protocol involved unilateral shoulder shrugs using resistance bands.

“Within a 10-minute period, participants performed 10 sets with 10 repetitions for a total of 100 repetitions,” state the study’s authors. “Participants used red elastic tubing during the first three sets, green elastic tubing during the next three sets, and blue elastic tubing during the final four sets.”

The main outcome measures for this study were perceived soreness and pressure pain threshold. Perceived soreness of the upper trapezius was rated on a scale from 0 to 10. Pressure pain threshold of the upper trapezius was measured using an electronic pressure algometer, and participants were told to state when the sensation of pressure changed to pain.

These two outcome measures were assessed immediately before each participant received the massage or active exercise intervention, then again immediately after each intervention was completed. These evaluations were repeated 10, 20 and 60 minutes after each intervention session ended.

Compared with the resting control shoulder, results of the research revealed both active exercise and massage significantly reduced perceived soreness and increased the pressure pain threshold of the subjects at most of the evaluation time points.

“In conclusion, active exercise using elastic resistance provides similar acute relief of muscle soreness as compared with massage, and both treatments are superior to no treatment,” state the study’s authors. “For both types of treatment, the greatest effect on perceived soreness occurred immediately after treatment, while the effect on [pressure pain threshold] peaked 20 minutes after treatment.

“Altogether, the greatest effects were observed within the first 20 minutes after treatment and diminished within an hour,” they added. “Thus, actively warming up the muscles relieves [delayed onset muscle soreness] only temporarily and should be performed immediately prior to competition or strenuous work.”

Authors: Lars L. Andersen, Kenneth Jay, Christoffer H. Andersen, Markus D. Jakobsen, Emil Sundstrup, Robert Topp and David G. Behm.

Sources: National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark; College of Nursing, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. Originally published in March 2013 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.