Massage is commonly believed to be the best modality for relieving muscle soreness. However, actively warming up the muscles with exercise may be an effective alternative. The purpose of this study was to compare the acute effect of massage with active exercise for relieving muscle soreness. Twenty healthy female volunteers (mean age 32 years) participated in this examiner-blind randomized controlled trial (ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01478451). The participants performed eccentric contractions for the upper trapezius muscle on a Biodex dynamometer. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) presented 48 hours later, at which the participants (a) received 10 minutes of massage of the trapezius muscle or (b) performed 10 minutes of active exercise (shoulder shrugs 10 × 10 reps) with increasing elastic resistance (Thera-Band). First, 1 treatment was randomly applied to 1 shoulder while the contralateral shoulder served as a passive control. Two hours later, the contralateral resting shoulder received the other treatment. The participants rated the intensity of soreness (scale 0-10), and a blinded examiner took measures of pressure pain threshold (PPT) of the upper trapezius immediately before treatment and 0, 10, 20, and 60 minutes after treatment 48 hours posteccentric exercise. Immediately before treatment, the intensity of soreness was 5.0 (SD 2.2) and PPT was 138 (SD 78) kPa. In response to treatment, a significant treatment by time interaction was found for the intensity of soreness (p < 0.001) and PPT (p < 0.05). Compared with control, both active exercise and massage significantly reduced the intensity of soreness and increased PPT (i.e., reduced pain sensitivity). For both types of treatment, the greatest effect on perceived soreness occurred immediately after treatment, whereas the effect on PPT peaked 20 minutes after treatment. In conclusion, active exercise using elastic resistance provides similar acute relief of muscle soreness as compared with that using massage. Coaches, therapists, and athletes can use either active warm-up or massage to reduce DOMS acutely, for example, to prepare for competition or strenuous work, but should be aware that the effect is temporary, that is, the greatest effects occurs during the first 20 minutes after treatment and diminishes within an hour.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2013, Vol 27, Issue 12, p. 3352-9