Massage is often used to reduce muscle tension and improve mobility. While stretching is accepted as the method to increase muscle length and flexibility, it stands to reason that a reduction in muscular tension after massage would also result in improvements in flexibility. Some research has shown massage techniques to be effective in improving hamstring flexibility, while others have not.
Eccentric hamstring stretching with Thera-Band resistance bands has been advocated by Nelson and Bandy (2004) as a potential method to reduce hamstring injuries. While their study found no significant difference in flexibility between static and eccentric stretching (both groups significantly improved their flexibility), the authors suggested an eccentric contraction may be more beneficial for the hamstring as it functions eccentrically.
Massage therapy researcher Jeffrey Forman PhD, NCTMB and his colleagues at DeAnza College in Cupertino California and Wichita State University wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of a combined intervention of massage and eccentric exercise on hamstring flexibility in subjects with tight hamstrings.
64 healthy subjects (average 31 years old) with tight hamstrings (defined as a 15 degree or more deficit in passive knee extension supine with hip at 90) participated in the study. On their tighter hamstring, participants received a “deep stripping massage” during 15, 10-second bouts of eccentric resistance with a Thera-Band resistance band.
The subjects were prone with the band attached to their ankle with an extremity strap while performing eccentric contractions of their hamstring. After being passively placed at 90 degrees of knee flexion, the subjects lowered their leg against the resistance band for a 10-count while a massage therapist provided longitudinal deep stripping massage strokes. The massage therapists used a green Hand Exerciser in their massaging hand as a shock absorber and Prossage® Heat as a lubricant.
The less tight hamstring (or non-dominant if of equal flexibility) received the deep stripping massage only. The participants hamstring flexibility and strength was recorded before and after the 2 interventions. Both techniques resulted in significant increases in hamstring flexibility.
In addition, the hamstring receiving the deep stripping massage with eccentric resistance increased significantly more than the hamstring receiving massage alone: Massage alone increased 6.3%, while massage with eccentric exercise increased 10.7%. There was no significant change in strength after either intervention.
The researchers speculated that the significant increase in the flexibility by adding the eccentric contraction was due to a rapid training effect associated with eccentric exercises. They also noted that more research is needed to determine long-term effects of the technique.
REFERENCE: Forman, J., et al., Effect of deep stripping massage alone or with eccentric resistance on hamstring length and strength, Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.04.005
Disclosure: Performance Health supported this study