Sunday 31st December, 2023

The benefits of sports massage

Sports massage
In this article we share with you the benefits of sports massages

Massage has been widely used by sports clubs and professional athletes, and recently self massage options have made this more widely available, so what are the benefits? The scientific literature tells us that sports massage can have the following benefits:

  1. help prepare muscles and prevent injury
  2. help athletic performance
  3. help reduce post exercise pain and stiffness, and help speed recovery, and
  4. help sports injuries and rehabilitation.

There are many different types of “sports massage” and different ways to use them (eg. before or after exercise), so for each potential benefit we will discuss:

  • which massages work the best,
  • what to expect, and
  • any practical advice


Claims vs reality
Types of sports massages
prepare muscles and prevent injury
help athletic performance
reduce post exercise soreness and help recovery
help sports injuries and rehabilitation

Claims vs reality

During the research for this article we found that un-substantiated misleading claims on websites and in marketing were almost the rule rather than the exception. As you will see this article is properly referenced with several tables of summarised scientific results near the end.

Types of sports massage

Conventional massage by therapists

You will see “sports massage” described as a particular type of massage, but "sports massages" vary widely depending on:

  • the skills and preferences of the therapist, and
  • the needs of the patient (eg. “warm ups”, recovery, rehabilitation)

The reality is that sports massages can take many forms, with the only difference between a sports massage and other types such as remedial, Swedish or relaxation is that they are being done on a sports person.

Self applied sports massages

  • Foam rollers
  • Vibration massage (not massage guns)
  • Massage guns
Foam rolling vs massage

Foam rollers

Foam rollers are widely marketed as a self massage substitute for sports massage, but as discussed in our article Do foam rollers work the results are generally not that good, and as a chiropractor for over 27 years I saw a lot of people hurt themselves using one. This infographic shows the main reasons why the use of foam rollers is usually no where near as effective as that provided by a professional therapist.

A vibration massage being used
A vibration massage being used

Vibration massage (not massage guns)

Vibration massage is where the pad of a therapeutic vibration massager is placed on the surface causing vibrations to penetrate and have their therapeutic effects. For more information please see our article The sports and exercise guide to vibration massage .

The big advantage of vibration massage (unlike foam rolling) is that properly guided home use can be as effective as professionally applied therapy.

Massage guns (percussion massage)

Where vibration massages have a head or pad that sits on the surface and sends vibrations deep into your muscles, percussion massagers drive their heads in like a jackhammer. In this video we give a summary of why massage guns give poor results and their marketing is misleading, however, the main issues are:

  1. marketers claim the benefits of vibration, but percussion massagers deliver less therapeutic vibrations, and usually at the wrong frequencies, and
  2. clinical trials give miselading results because they modify the machines so they don’t drive their heads in.

The benefits of sports massage

Prepare muscles and prevent injury

Sports massages are said to help prepare muscles and prevent injury by:

  • flushing muscles with blood, and
  • relaxing/lengthening muscles.

Flushing muscle with blood

Both conventional massage and vibration massage will increase blood flow (1–4)⁠. However, you will probably get a similar or better increase by using simple warm up exercises.

Relaxing/lengthening muscles

Tight muscles are more likely to tear. It is believed that massage will help relax and lengthen muscles, reducing the risk of injury (5,6)⁠. While this has never been tested it seems quite reasonable. Both conventional massage and vibration massage have been shown to relax and lengthen muscles (7)⁠. Foam rollers have been shown to lengthen muscles, but this lengthening lasts less than 10 minutes (8–10)⁠

Practical advice

While massage can be useful, it should be done as part of a complete warm up routine. For more information please see our article Warm-ups: a guide to the best massages, stretches and exercises .

Help athletics performance

When looking at whether sports massage can help sports or athletics performance we need to consider two types of usage.

  1. Before exercise or competition
  2. Regular massages.

Massages before sports or exercise

Conventional massage

Trials of conventional massages before exercises showed that they did not increase performance (11)⁠

Vibration massage

Trials have shown that the application of 30-60hz vibration before exercise will:

  • increase strength (12,13)⁠.
  • increase the time taken to fatigue (14)⁠.
Foam rolling

Trials of foam rolling have shown no increase in performance (8,15–18)⁠.

Massage guns

As discussed above there is no evidence that massage guns do anything worthwhile. Marketers make misleading claims and modify their machines for clinical trials.

Journal- regular massage
Several clinical trials show that regular massages can increase sports or athletic performances

Regular massages

Regular sports massages can potentially help performance by treating and removing issues that inhibit muscle function. As discussed in our article on the effects of (myofascial) trigger points on sports and athletics performance the main issue is (myofascial) trigger points which can;

  • reduce strength,
  • cause tighness,
  • cause muscles to rapidly fatigue,
  • slow the response of a muscle, and
  • impair neurological control.
Studies show what is possible

As discussed in our article Does massage help athletic or sports performance there have been three studies where regular massages (vibration and Thai) have improved performance (19–21)⁠. This is a realistic option for most people because with the proper equipment vibration massage can effectively be self applied.

Post exercise recovery

Strenuous exercise will cause microscopic damage to your muscle fibres, resulting in:

  • muscle tightness,
  • soreness (called DOMS = Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), and
  • reduced muscle performance.

Massage is thought to help recovery by relaxing the muscles and increasing blood flow. There have been a large number of clinical trials looking at this so let us look at what they have found.

Conventional massages from a therapist

There have been a large number of clinical trials using conventional massage after exercise. In summary:

  • in over half showed no benefit at all ⁠⁠(22–30)⁠
  • a small percentage showed massage to reduce post exercise soreness (31–33)⁠
  • a small percentage the massage reduced the post exercise stiffness and loss of function ⁠⁠(34–36)⁠

Vibration massage (not massage guns)

Vibration massage has produced by far the most benefit in clinical trials. We found nine studies where vibration massage was used after exercising. They consistently showed that this:

  • reduces post exercise soreness (DOMS) (37–44)⁠
  • reduces the loss of function and speed recovery (44,45)⁠ and
  • blood chemical analysis shows that unwanted chemical are removed much faster (40,42,44)⁠

Foam rollers

Despite the marketing a recent review of 21 clinical trials found that foam rollers only had minor or negligible effects on post exercise recovery (46)⁠ while others express concerns about the potential damage they may cause (47)⁠.

Massage guns (percussion massagers)

As discussed above there is no evidence that massage guns do anything worthwhile. Marketers make misleading claims and modify their machines for clinical trials.

Practical advice

Rather than just rely on a form of therapy we recommend a complete strategy to help provide everything your muscle need to recover. This includes appropriate rest, hydration, nutrition, plus various other things that can help. For more information please see our guide . The practical, science based guide to post exercise recovery

Help sports injuries and rehabilitation

Both conventional and vibration massage are widely used by professionals to help with sports injuries and rehabilitation. For more information please see some of these articles.
Is massage good for shoulder pain
Does massage help healing and recovery
How to treat tennis elbow
Massage and trigger point therapy for low back pain
Massage and trigger point therapy for calf pain

Resource for fitness professionals

Please check out our video guide for fitness professionals.


In this section

  • summary tables of clinincal trail results
  • complete references listing

Vibration massage

NOTE: You may need to scroll the table below left/right for more information


What was done

What was found


Reviewed 11 studies related to the effects of vibration on muscle strength

Most studies reported a significant improvement in muscle strength following the application of vibration


Review of seven studies related to the application of vibration to older people suffering from muscle loss

Both whole body and locally applied vibration improved muscle strength


10 healthy males were fatigued using 10 sets each of wrist flexion exercises. 10 minutes of 45 Hz vibration was applied 1 hour post exercise then twice a day.

Resulted in greater strength and tissue oxygenation when measured 1, 24 and 48 hours post exercise.


Applied vibration after exercise then each day for 4 days

Good reduction in soreness and increase in flexibility


Used 50 Hz vibration before exercising

Helped prevent post exercise soreness (DOMS)


Compared reduction of post exercise pain for massage vs 50 hz vibration. Patients were assess 24, 48 and 72 hours post exercise

Both reduced pain. 5 minutes of vibration gave slightly better improvement than 15 minutes of massage

Conventional massage

NOTE: You may need to scroll the table below left/right for more information


What they did

What they found


Review of 29 studies related to the effects of massage on performance and recovery

No evidence of improved strength, endurance or fatigue. Massage gave a small improvement in post exercise soreness and flexibility


Trial using massage on quadriceps muscles after exercise

Did not reduce post exercise loss of strength. No effect on post exercise pain


Trial of using massage after exercise

No improvement in performance or soreness


Trial of post exercise massage in older people

Some reduction in symptoms and impairment


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  3. Nakagami G, Sanada H, Matsui N, Kitagawa A, Yokogawa H, Sekiya N, et al. Effect of vibration on skin blood flow in an in vivo microcirculatory model. Biosci Trends. 2007;1(3):161–6.
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  20. Dawson KA et. al. Effectiveness of regular proactive massage therapy for novice recreational runners. Phys Ther Sport. 2011;12(4):182–7.
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  40. Kim J-Y, Kang D-H, Lee J-H, O S-M, Jeon J-K. The effects of pre-exercise vibration stimulation on the exercise-induced muscle damage. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017;29(1):119–22.
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Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more

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