The Benefits of Sports Massage

Sports massage is reported to have many beneficial effects in athletes. Sports massage can be used pre-performance, post-performance, during training, or for rehabilitation. From elite athletes to recreational exercisers, it is a popular choice. Learn more about what it is used for and which benefits are supported by research.

Sports massage therapist working on a patient's leg
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What Is Sports Massage?

Sports massage is a systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body that focuses on muscles relevant to a particular sport. Runner Paavo Nurmi, known as the "Flying Finn," was one of the early users of sports massage. Nurmi is said to have used sports massage during the 1924 Olympics in Paris where he won five gold medals. Jack Meagher is thought to be the father of sports massage in the United States.

Many different movements and techniques are used in sports massage. Examples of these techniques include; Swedish style massage, effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), compression, friction, tapotement (rhythmic striking), vibration, gliding, stretching, percussion, and trigger points. These movements and techniques are used to try to help the athlete's body achieve maximum performance and physical conditioning with a decreased chance of injury or pain and a quicker recovery.


Many benefits from sports massage have been reported based on experience and observation. Some are beneficial to the mind (psychological) and some to the body (physiological).

Some of the reported benefits of sports massage include:

  • Increased joint range of motion (ROM)
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased sense of well-being
  • Decreased muscle tension
  • Decreased neurological excitability (nerves more relaxed)
  • Decreased muscle spasms
  • Better sleep

Purported benefits that are not supported by research include:

  • Increased blood flow
  • Increased elimination of exercise waste products (lactic acid)
  • Decreased chance of injury
  • Decreased recovery time between workouts

Side Effects

Possible side effects of sports massage are tenderness or stiffness for 1 to 2 days after the sports massage. A skin reaction due to the massage oils is also possible. But for the most part, sports massage is safe.

What the Research Says

Research studies regarding perceived fatigue and recovery showed that subjects felt they were less fatigued and felt like they recovered faster after sports massage. Decreased anxiety, improved mood, better sleep, and enhanced feelings of well-being were also noted. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is reduced by sports massage, according to a wide variety of studies.

Now for some benefits that are not supported by research. The ability of sports massage to help the muscles get rid of lactic acid is not supported in research studies. Many researchers feel this is linked to the fact that sports massage does not increase blood flow to muscles. For example, a 2010 study found that blood flow was actually mechanically impeded by massage and that was a possible reason that lactic acid removal was impaired. A quicker recovery after sports massage is not yet supported by the research. Studies do support that active recovery (low-intensity exercise after work-out) is the best method of decreasing the amount of lactic acid that builds up after exercise and speeds recovery.

So what does all of this mean? It seems that the positive mind (psychological) benefits of sports massage are indeed supported by research studies. Study findings also support that sports massage does not negatively affect performance, but the positive body (physiological) benefits on performance are not quite as clear. More research is needed on the positive body effects and also on the mind/body interaction after sports massage.

Finding a Sports Massage Therapist

Look for a credentialed massage therapist to provide you with sports massage. You can look for therapists in your area via the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB)'s Find A Nationally Certified Practitioner database or the American Massage Therapy Association's (AMTA) Find a Massage Therapist database.

The AMTA recommends asking the following questions:

  • What are your certifications, and are you a member of the American Massage Therapy Association?
  • Are you licensed or registered as a massage therapist in this state? Almost all states regulate massage therapists, requiring credentials to practice.
  • Which types of massage are you trained to perform?
  • Can you address my health and fitness concerns?

A Word From Verywell

Sports massage is highly valued by many athletes, even though some of its purported benefits are not supported by research. If your goal is relief from sore and tense muscles after a workout, as well as general relaxation, it may be valuable for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is massage therapy?

    Massage therapy is a type of massage with the specific goal to strengthen the mobility and function of muscles and joints. It is part of a physical therapy treatment plan performed by a trained physical therapist.

  • Are there different types of sports massage?

    Yes, different types of sports massage can focus on the muscles most relevant to a particular sport. Examples of this include effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (rhythmic striking), vibration, stretching, compression, trigger points, and more.

  • Are massages good for you?

    Whether a massage is "good" for you will depend on your personal experience and enjoyment, but there are virtually zero risks to it besides having an allergy to massage oils. For many people, a general massage can improve their overall and physical well-being. A sports massage can help an athlete prepare for or recover from an activity and improve performance.

  • What is a Swedish massage?

    Swedish massage is a technique focused on long, smooth strokes. Deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping are performed with these strokes to knead and compress the muscles.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Burgan B. University of Minnesota. How can massage help my health and wellbeing?

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Massage.

Additional Reading
  • Best TM, Hunter R, Wilcox A, Haq F. Effectiveness of Sports Massage for Recovery of Skeletal Muscle From Strenuous Exercise. Clin J Sport Med. 2008;18(5):446-60.

  • Dupuy O, Douzi W, Theurot D, Bosquet L, Dugué B. An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol. 2018;9:403. Published 2018 Apr 26. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00403

  • Kennedy AB, Patil N, Trilk JL. 'Recover Quicker, Train Harder, and Increase Flexibility': Massage Therapy for Elite Paracyclists, a Mixed-Methods Study. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018;4(1):e000319. Published 2018 Jan 26. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000319

  • Mine K, Lei D, Nakayama T. Is Pre-Performance Massage Effective to Improve Maximal Muscle Strength and Functional Performance? A Systematic Review. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2018;13(5):789-799. 

  • Wiltshire EV, Poitras V, Pak M, Hong T, Rayner J, Tschakovsky ME. Massage Impairs Postexercise Muscle Blood Flow and "Lactic Acid" Removal. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(6):1062-7