Massage is widely
practiced in sports settings to treat muscle pain and weaknesses
associated with delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However, little is
known about the effects massage has on muscle viscoelastic properties
(i.e., stiffness, tone, and elasticity). Existing studies either
utilized equipment that were too complex for use within sports settings,
or only examined the short-term (few minutes) effects of massage. In
addition, the relationship between muscle viscoelastic properties and
perceived soreness are still not well established.
In recent times, myotonometry has become a popular technique to reliably
assess muscle viscoelastic properties. With this novel technology, it is
now possible to conveniently examine the effects of massage on muscle
viscoelastic properties after intense exercising. Thus, this study aimed
to examine the effects of massage on post-exercise muscle viscoelastic
properties, and to investigate the relationship between perceived muscle
soreness and muscle viscoelastic properties.
Eighteen recreational male runners [mean (SD) age: 24.9 (3.4) years;
height: 1.71 (0.05) m; mass: 63.5 (7.5) kg] were recruited. Participants
underwent a 40-minute downhill run to induce DOMS in their lower limb
muscles. Ninety minutes post-run, participants received a 16-minute
massage on one leg and a 16-minute placebo treatment (sham therapeutic
ultrasound) on the contralateral leg. Muscle of interests include: i)
rectus femoris, ii) biceps femoris, iii) tibialis anterior, and iv)
medial gastrocnemius. Muscle viscoelastic properties measured through
myotonometry, along with perceived muscle soreness measured using a
numerical rating scale (NRS), and pressure pain threshold (PPT) obtained
using pressure algometry, were assessed at seven measurement time points
(baseline, post-run, post-treatment, 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours post-run).
Myotonometric results showed no significant effect of treatment or
interaction in all measured parameters (p > .050). Results of perceived
muscle soreness also indicated no significant effect of treatment or
interaction across all time points in both methods (p > .050).
Correlation results showed no consistent relationship between perceived
muscle soreness and muscle viscoelastic properties.
It was concluded that a 16-minute bout of massage, consisting of
effleurage, petrissage, and tapotement was not effective in enhancing
the recovery of muscle viscoelastic properties or alleviating perceived
muscle soreness in the lower limbs, up to 96 hours following an
eccentric downhill run. Nevertheless, findings here provided support to
the use of myotonometry to monitor changes in muscle stiffness and tone
following intense exercise. NRS was recommended for use in future
investigations to assess perceived muscle soreness as compared to PPT.
The inconsistent relationship between perceived muscle soreness and
muscle viscoelastic properties indicates that subjective changes in
perception of muscle soreness were not related to objective alterations
in muscle viscoelastic properties. Therefore, it is recommended to
utilize a combination of both assessment methods in the monitoring of
muscle condition and recovery in athletes.