Rolling out your muscles with hand-held massage sticks and full-sized foam rollers can work wonders following exercise, but have you ever wondered, "Is it OK to work out after a massage?"
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And if you participate in sports and/or are into tough workouts at the gym, a deep tissue massage may be just the thing for you. They're often enjoyed after a tough exercise session to get rid of the kinks, loosen the knots and stretch out overworked muscles. But those same muscles will need time to recover from your relaxing rubdown.
Studies involving the merits (or downfalls) of massages around work outs are often very small. That said, the research that does exist on the subject of pre- and post-exercise massage is eye-opening, to say the least.
Exercising too soon after a deep tissue massage may do more harm than good. Give your body 24 to 48 hours before your next workout.
Can You Work Out After a Massage?
For most massages, the general advice is to have one after working out. If you choose to do one prior, it's a good idea to wait before hitting the gym. Massages involve applied pressure to the muscles, so it's almost like a mild form of working out.
According to MassageTherapy.com, a generally accepted practice is to wait at least 24 hours. For more intense massages like a deep tissue massage, 48 hours might be best. In the case of deep tissue massage, you may already feel a little sore afterward, which may increase your risk of injury. This advice also applies to hot yoga after a massage.
Side Effects of Working Out After a Massage
A widely referenced December 2008 study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that pre-workout massage in healthy males led to diminished performance in vertical jump and sprint tests, reducing both speed and reaction time. It was this small study involving 24 participants that first busted the massage-before-exercise myth.
A decade later, an August 2018 systemic review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy supported this claim, uncovering that long pre-exercise massages aren't recommended, as they hinder performance. This systemic review examined nine studies, involving 510 participants across all of them.
The Caveat: Mini Massages
While full-body massages may not be the best option leading up to a workout, brief rub-downs are said to, at the very least, improve your mindset during the workout.
According to a January 2008 study in the Journal of Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences, women who received quick, light, 10-minute massages experienced a more positive mindset, effectively reducing the feeling of effort and self-diagnosed physical symptoms while running (like cramps or shin splints).
As a result of these findings, Gretchen Reynolds went on to publish her 2012 book The First 20 Minutes, which, in addition to many other lessons, details how a pre-event mini massage can be majorly motivational.
Can You Get a Massage After a Workout?
Well, what about after a workout? In a small February 2014 study in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 22 male participants who received 10 minutes of roller massage following a workout exhibited less soreness in the minutes and hours following treatment, making it a solid choice for recovery.
But the time between your workout and massage matters. In a June 2014 study in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers found that massage within 15 minutes of the end of a workout helped prevent delayed onset muscle soreness at a greater rate than waiting to get a massage 48 hours later.
Although the study was conducted on rabbits rather than humans, its findings are worth mentioning, as it suggests that massage can be beneficial for post-workout recovery, especially if it's done immediately following the sweat session.
There are limitations to what an after-sports massage can do, though. For example, many athletes are under the assumption that massage and foam rolling will rid the muscles of lactic acid. While massages can help reduce muscle tension, increase range of motion and decrease stiffness, the same can't be said for lactic acid reduction.
In an often-cited June 2010 study in the Journal of Medicine and Exercise in Sports and Science, 10 minutes of massage following a strenuous forearm workout actually decreased blood flow, a surprising revelation considering the popularly held belief that massage increases circulation. As a result, researchers concluded that massage doesn't help rid the body of lactic acid build-up. Again, the study was small, with 12 participants total. More research is needed to support the researchers' conclusions.
Types of Massages
There are different techniques and add-ons like aromatherapy oils that enhance your massage session. Among the different styles of massages are Swedish, hot stone, trigger point and deep tissue.
- Swedish massages are pretty standard and the most commonly requested type, according to Elements Massage. They involve long, relaxing strokes; kneading; small, circular motions and rocking movements. They focus on the superficial, and the light touch of this massage can have a calming effect.
- Hot stone massages involve, you guessed it, hot stones that are placed on your back (or in a line along your spine), allowing the warmth to reach your muscles and making it easier for the therapist to work on releasing tightness and tension.
- Trigger point massages are focused on particular areas of the body. Usually, pressure is applied to the muscle where a knot has formed with the intention of releasing the spasm. The recipient may be asked to do deep breathing as they're treated.
- Deep tissue massage is a therapeutic massage that focuses on reaching deeper in the muscles and working on the connective tissues. The therapist engages in slow and deliberate strokes that are meant to treat tight and painful muscles, strains and injuries. In addition to using their hands, they may also use their elbows and forearms.
Additional reporting from Rebecca Norris
- International Journal of Preventative Medicine: "Durability of Effect of Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure"
- Journal of Athletic Training: "Effects of Massage on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, Swelling, and Recovery of Muscle Function"
- Elements Massage: "Swedish vs. Deep Tissue Massage: Which Do You Need?"
- MassageTherapy.com: "How Long Should I Wait to Exercise After a Massage or Bodywork Session?"
- Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: "Acute Effects of Pre-Event Lower Limb Massage on Explosive and High Speed Motor Capacities and Flexibility"
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "IS PRE‐PERFORMANCE MASSAGE EFFECTIVE TO IMPROVE MAXIMAL MUSCLE STRENGTH AND FUNCTIONAL PERFORMANCE? A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW"
- International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork: "Measuring the Effects of Massage on Exercise Performance and Cardiopulmonary Response in Children With and Without Heart Disease: A Pilot Study"
- Medicine and Science in Sports and and Exercise: "Massage impairs postexercise muscle blood flow and "lactic acid" removal"
- Journal of Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences: "Psychological Effects of Massage on Running"
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "Specific and cross over effects of massage for muscle soreness: randomized controlled trial"
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Massage Timing Affects Postexercise Muscle Recovery and Inflammation in a Rabbit Model"
- Gretchen Reynolds: "The First 20 Minutes"
- Archive of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: "Massage Therapy Restores Peripheral Vascular Function After Exertion"
- Sports; "The Effects of Massage Therapy on Sport and Exercise Performance: A Systematic Review"