Massage is a common conservative intervention used to treat myalgia. Although subjective reports have supported the premise that massage decreases pain, few studies have systematically investigated the dose response characteristics of massage relative to a control group. The purpose of this study was to perform a double-blinded, randomized controlled trial of the effects of massage on mechanical hyperalgesia (pressure pain thresholds, PPT) and perceived pain using delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as an endogenous model of myalgia. Participants were randomly assigned to a no-treatment control, superficial touch, or deep-tissue massage group. Eccentric wrist extension exercises were performed at visit 1 to induce DOMS 48 hours later at visit 2. Pain, assessed using visual analog scales (VAS), and PPTs were measured at baseline, after exercise, before treatment, and after treatment. Deep massage decreased pain (48.4% DOMS reversal) during muscle stretch. Mechanical hyperalgesia was reduced (27.5% reversal) after both the deep massage and superficial touch groups relative to control (increased hyperalgesia by 38.4%). Resting pain did not vary between treatment groups.
Perspective: This randomized, controlled trial suggests that massage is capable of reducing myalgia symptoms by approximately 25% to 50%, varying with assessment technique. Thus, potential analgesia may depend on the pain assessment used. This information may assist clinicians in determining conservative treatment options for patients with myalgia.