Study: Exercise May Work As Well as Massage for Sore Muscles

Many people work out, committed to their health and fitness, only to spend a fair amount of time post-exercise, aching with sore muscles. Some of us tough it out. Some of us are able to get a massage. A new study out of the National Research Center for the Working Environment in Copenhagen is offering another way of working out those sore muscles after working out – more working out.

Lars Andersen, the lead author of the study, says:  “It’s a common belief that massage is better, but it isn’t better. Massage and exercise had the same benefits [in our study].”

Andersen and his team conducted an experiment to see if massage was indeed the best way to find some respite after a workout.  They had 20 women do a shoulder exercise while being hooked up to a resistance machine. The trapezius muscle between the neck and shoulders was engaged, and two days later, was aching at a level of 5 on a 10 point scale, up .8 from before they had done the shoulder work out.

Then the women got a 10 minute massage on one shoulder, and did a 10 minute exercise on the other. Some received the massage first, others did the exercise first.

Andersen’s group found that both treatments peaked ten minutes after the massage or exercise, with women reporting a decrease in pain of .8 points after the warm up exercise, and of .7 after the massage.

This research team believes that sore athletes would also see a reduction in their discomfort with a light workout. They would like to see studies done to track whether warming up the muscles to relieve that soreness might impact how well athletes perform, perhaps by clearing out metabolic byproducts associated with tissue damage.  

The take-home lesson for yoga practitioners? Don’t let a little muscle soreness keep you off your mat – once you get going, you’re likely to see improvement. Andersen suggests that people try light exercise to ease their pain. While the effect is moderate and temporary, this method doesn’t require a trained therapist, transportation, or money. Of course, use common sense: Any pain that persists or get worse with exercise (or yoga) may require a doctor’s attention.

SOURCE: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, online March 21, 2013

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