“Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance.” -Hippocrates

For years massage has been considered standard practice following athletic training. A vast majority of people believe that if muscles are massaged after training, recovery time will be reduced. Science, however, isn’t as sure as there is very little scientific evidence supporting this claim. There have been various studies performed over the years on the effects of massage on athletic recovery and the findings may surprise you. Athletes and trainers claim that massage provides several benefits to the body such as increased blood flow, reduced muscle soreness and an increased sense of comfort. Despite frequent use, evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of massage on athletic performance is scarce.

Most likely derived from a study in the 1950’s, many massage therapists claim that massage helps athletes recover from hard training due to the increased blood flow into the muscles. Recent research disputes this claim. Massage impairs lactic acid removal from muscles after strenuous exercise by mechanically impeding blood flow (Medicine and Science in sports and exercise, 2010 Jun; 42(6):1062-71)’. Dr. Michael Tschakovsky of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada explains: “This is quite simple. I think that when people originally thought about the 'common sense' effect of increasing circulation, they were thinking of a mechanical 'pumping' effect of massage strokes, and some kind of stimulation of blood vessels. However, in order to do the 'pumping' and 'stimulating' you have to use compressive force. During compression of tissue, you actually squeeze shut the tiny blood vessels in the tissue through which the blood is flowing. You can imagine that if you add this to the normal resting condition, you are adding intermittent impairment to flow. If there is an enhancement effect of massage it would occur between massage strokes. The net effect (increase or decrease or no difference) on blood flow depends on whether the magnitude of impairment or enhancement effects dominates.”

Just to be clear, Dr. Tschakovsky’s study does not directly dispel the belief that massage helps with recovery. It merely proves that massage does not increase blood flow to the muscles. While massage may help to reduce muscle soreness, many studies have proven that there is no correlation on muscle soreness and actual muscle function. ‘No measurable physiological effects of leg massage compared with passive recovery were observed on recovery from high intensity exercise, (British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2004 Apr;38(2):173-6)’. What this means is that while your muscles may be sore, sore muscles do not actual hinder your muscles ability to work. Further, Brian Hemmings, PhD, a researcher at University College Northampton in the United Kingdom explains, "Accumulation of blood lactate is thought is to delay muscle recovery, and an increase in muscle blood flow is thought to reduce lactate levels. But not all studies have shown a positive effect of massage on lactate removal."

The purpose of this article is not to prove massage useless. It is to merely point out and dispel the myth that massage plays a vital role in recovery. There are far more important factors pertaining to exercise recovery than massage. Proper nutrition, nutrition timing and rest will deliver muscle recovery far superior to massage. The body deals with nutrients differently at different times, depending on activity. This means what you feed your dog before and after their workout is vitally important. By feeding particular nutrients after their workout you will help to improve their body composition, performance and overall recovery. When you feed your dog is critical as well. Immediately after training, your dog’s muscles are primed to accept the nutrients to stimulate muscle repair, muscle growth and muscle strength. If you fail to provide enough post exercise nutrition quickly enough, you decrease your dog’s ability to recover. A species appropriate, complete raw diet accomplishes this better than any bag of kibble or box of supplements will ever dream of.

As always, be skeptical with what you read and what you believe. Challenge the norm and being willing to do your own experiments to determine what works and what doesn’t. I’ve worked hundreds of dogs over the years and I’ve spent hours massaging dogs. The only benefit I’ve seen from massage is the bonding and inspection that take place during that time. If you like massaging your dog, by all means do it. I’m sure your dog will love it. Just be aware that if your goal is recovery, your time will be better spent focusing on proper nutrition and rest.

Andrew Seguss
Andrew Seguss

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