Massage and Blood Flow/Post-Exercise Soreness

A recent study performed at the University of Illinois at Chicago has indicated that massage therapy promotes circulation and healing in people with exercise-induced injuries, even improving blood flow in people who hadn’t exercised.

The study:

A group of sedentary adults (36) were divided into three groups: exercise with massage, exercise only, and massage only. Soreness and vascular response were measured at 90 minutes, 24 hours, 48 hours and 72 hours after exercise in the exercise groups. Vascular effect was measured objectively using a sonogram to assess brachial artery flow mediated dilation. Soreness was measured subjectively in the exercise and exercise and massage groups, with participants rating on a scale of 1 to 10 their soreness levels.

The outcome:

Though both exercise groups reported soreness at the end of their workouts, the exercise and massage group reported no soreness 90 minutes after massage, while the exercise-only group still had soreness 24 hours after.

The exercise-only group showed a reduced blood flow, only returning to normal at 72 hours after exercise, whereas the exercise and massage group had improved blood flow from the 90 minute measure, starting to taper off by the 72 hour measure.

The massage-only group also had improved blood flow virtually identical to the exercise and massage group.


The great thing about this study is that it was able to use an objective measure to see how bodies responded to massage physiologically, in addition to gauging each participant’s subjective response. It isn’t a large-scale study, and a possible limitation is that it didn’t have a no massage/no exercise control group.

My favourite quotes (from the UIC press release, see link below):

“Our study validates the value of massage in exercise and injury, which has been previously recognized but based on minimal data,” said Nina Cherie Franklin, UIC postdoctoral fellow in physical therapy and first author of the study. “It also suggests the value of massage outside of the context of exercise.”

“We believe that massage is really changing physiology in a positive way,” said Franklin. “This is not just blood flow speeds—this is actually a vascular response.”

“The big surprise was the massage-only control group, who showed virtually identical levels of improvement in circulation as the exercise and massage group,” said Phillips.

Links about this study:

The press release from the researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago

The abstract from the study, published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

A more detailed, easy-to-read article about the study (note: this has a video that will start automatically)