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Modest effects of massage on muscle soreness, swelling, and function

PainSci » bibliography » Zainuddin et al 2005
Tags: treatment, self-treatment, massage, exercise, pain, manual therapy, modalities

Two pages on PainSci cite Zainuddin 2005: 1. A Deep Dive into Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness2. I have faith in sports massage … for some reason

PainSci notes on Zainuddin 2005:

This is a good representative example of research about massage for DOMS, and notable for how underwhelming it is. After acknowledging that “the findings about the effects of massage on DOMS and muscle function are inconclusive or contradictory in nature,” these researchers muddied the waters still more with their own inconclusive experiment. In an extremely small study comparing 10 massaged arms to their unmassaged twins, “Massage was effective in alleviating DOMS by approximately 30% and reducing swelling, but it had no effects on muscle function.” Those results sound encouraging, and they are to some degree, but there are major caveats. They are barely statistically significant, and one key measure of pain was not: in other words, the results could have been a coincidence. Also, the effect size — a 30% reduction in pain — is just not that great, but especially if it’s temporary … and the researchers don’t say how long it lasted (and yet they did provide graphs of how all their other measurements changed over time). Cynically I wonder if it means that the pain-killing effect was quite brief: wouldn’t it have been a nice thing to report if it had been lasting? It’s an odd omission. Finally, the failure to have any effect on muscle strength is consistent with all other studies of massage for DOMS, and it means that massage is only relieving a little pain at best — not actually “fixing” or promoting recovery.

Bear in mind that this weak evidence is one of the stronger examples of a “positive” study of massage for DOMS. This is roughly as good as it gets.

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

CONTEXT: Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) describes muscle pain and tenderness that typically develop several hours postexercise and consist of predominantly eccentric muscle actions, especially if the exercise is unfamiliar. Although DOMS is likely a symptom of eccentric-exercise-induced muscle damage, it does not necessarily reflect muscle damage. Some prophylactic or therapeutic modalities may be effective only for alleviating DOMS, whereas others may enhance recovery of muscle function without affecting DOMS.

OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that massage applied after eccentric exercise would effectively alleviate DOMS without affecting muscle function.

DESIGN: We used an arm-to-arm comparison model with 2 independent variables (control and massage) and 6 dependent variables (maximal isometric and isokinetic voluntary strength, range of motion, upper arm circumference, plasma creatine kinase activity, and muscle soreness). A 2-way repeated-measures analysis of variance and paired t tests were used to examine differences in changes of the dependent variable over time (before, immediately and 30 minutes after exercise, and 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, and 14 days postexercise) between control and massage conditions.

SETTING: University laboratory.

PATIENTS OR OTHER PARTICIPANTS: Ten healthy subjects (5 men and 5 women) with no history of upper arm injury and no experience in resistance training.

INTERVENTION(S): Subjects performed 10 sets of 6 maximal isokinetic (90 degrees x s(-1)) eccentric actions of the elbow flexors with each arm on a dynamometer, separated by 2 weeks. One arm received 10 minutes of massage 3 hours after eccentric exercise; the contralateral arm received no treatment.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE(S): Maximal voluntary isometric and isokinetic elbow flexor strength, range of motion, upper arm circumference, plasma creatine kinase activity, and muscle soreness.

RESULTS: Delayed-onset muscle soreness was significantly less for the massage condition for peak soreness in extending the elbow joint and palpating the brachioradialis muscle (P < .05). Soreness while flexing the elbow joint (P = .07) and palpating the brachialis muscle (P = .06) was also less with massage. Massage treatment had significant effects on plasma creatine kinase activity, with a significantly lower peak value at 4 days postexercise (P < .05), and upper arm circumference, with a significantly smaller increase than the control at 3 and 4 days postexercise (P < .05). However, no significant effects of massage on recovery of muscle strength and ROM were evident.

CONCLUSIONS: Massage was effective in alleviating DOMS by approximately 30% and reducing swelling, but it had no effects on muscle function.

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