Exercise soothes sore muscles just as well as massage: study

16 April 2013 - 11:36 By AFP Relaxnews
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If you're feeling sore after a tough workout, a new study finds that warm-up exercises relieve pain just as well as massage.

While massage is commonly believed to be the best antidote to muscle soreness, "actively warming up the muscles with exercise may be an effective alternative," the researchers wrote.

Prior research has found that massage can give relief to sore, overtrained muscles.

Lars Andersen, the lead author of the study and a professor at the National Research Center for the Working Environment in Copenhagen, and his team recruited 20 women for the study. They asked the subjects to perform a shoulder exercise targeting the trapezius muscles using a resistance machine. Two days later, the subjects returned to the lab, all with sore trapezius muscles from the exercise.

After rating their levels of soreness, the women received a 10-minute massage on one shoulder and did a 10-minute exercise with the other shoulder. Some subjects received the massage first, while others performed the exercise first.

After each treatment, the women reported a reduction in their pain of 0.8 points after the warm-up exercise and 0.7 points after the massage.

However, the effect of both treatments was temporary, with the greatest relief occurring in the first 20 minutes after treatment and diminishing within an hour.

While it's not clear how massages or exercise helps relieve soreness, Reuters reports that both treatments are thought to help eliminate lactic acid, which is associated with tissue damage and exercise. To ease pain, Anderson recommends light exercise.

While the effect of both massage and exercise is moderate and only offers temporary relief, the benefit of exercise is that it doesn't cost money or require travel time to see a therapist.

The research appears in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.