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For decades, athletes of all calibers and disciplines have been reaping the benefits of massage before, during and after sporting events. Up until now, the success of sports massage had been largely anecdotal, with a minimal amount of research conducted on this practice. However, a published trial from Japan demonstrates that petrissage has a valid place in the arena of sports medicine.

Sports enthusiasts wishing to improve performance and increase their competitive edge typically adopt a training regimen to enhance skill, strength, stamina, suppleness and speed. Regardless of which sport an athlete pursues, this goal always requires an increase in training levels, subjecting the body to gradual overuse. Without careful attention to cross training, this overuse almost always creates problems and imbalances in the body’s soft tissues. If allowed to progress, these imbalances will hinder the athlete’s performance and increase his/her susceptibility to serious injury.


Often learning how to ride a bicycle when young, people enjoy bicycling for many reasons, namely transportation, recreation and competition. Competitive cycling began in the 1800s and has flourished into a favorite sport worldwide. With races spanning a few miles to thousands of miles, competitive cyclists must be very disciplined when training to succeed in their sport.

Requiring extended, high-power physiological demands on the body, cycling commands a relatively stationary trunk and highly active lower extremities – for potentially long periods of time. To prevent fatigue and improve performance, a great deal of oxygen is needed by the lower leg muscles during a cycling competition. For these reasons, the use of performance enhancing drugs is widespread in cycling, especially after the scandal that shook the Tour de France in 1998 and resulted in the expulsion of one of the leading teams. Cyclists desiring a legal and natural approach for enhancing the oxygenation of their limbs often turn to sports massage therapists for oxygenation of their leg muscles.


Belonging to any sports massage therapist’s repertoire, petrissage is a powerful technique to mobilize circulation and stretch fibers deep within the targeted musculature. Often involving kneading, pressing, rolling and squeezing, petrissage moves muscles over bones and is reputed to increase the size and strength of the muscle.

The Study

Although the study published in the April 2008 edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine focuses on cyclists, the results can be assumed for any other physically demanding sport. To determine if the sports massage technique of petrissage could be scientifically proven to influence localized circulation, Japanese researchers studied its effect between bouts of intensive cycling. Lactic acid in the blood, muscle stiffness and perceived lower limb fatigue was evaluated in cycling subjects who received a ten-minute petrissage massage and compared with cycling subjects who simply rested between intervals. The investigators concluded that petrissage improved pedaling performance, improved recovery from muscle stiffness and reduced perceived lower limb fatigue.

Any logical assessment of petrissage’s effect on a fatigued muscle would condone its use. However, having the actual proof of its benefits to an athlete will bolster the widespread acceptance and use of this sports massage technique. By documenting that petrissage increases muscle strength and reduces fatigue under demanding circumstances, more and more athletic organizations will be looking to include this legal, substance-free approach into their training programs.

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