Many athletes believe that massage enhances recovery, prevents soreness, increases muscle blood flow, and speeds healing. In most countries, massage is an important part of the restoration process following exercise (with the exception of America). We have good evidence that massage increases blood flow, promotes relaxation, reduces cortisol (a catabolic hormone) and temporarily lowers resting blood pressure and heart rate. There is little objective evidence that massage reduces the risk of injury, speeds healing from injury, or improves performance. An Ohio State University study on rabbits, led by Thomas Best, found that 30 minutes of compressive force simulating a Swedish massage promoted recovery in the tibialis anterior muscle (shin muscle) and reduced white blood cell response following intense eccentric contractions (lengthening contractions; negatives). They concluded that muscles damaged from exercise respond positively to compressive stroking. We need more research to determine if the results apply to humans.
Source: Medicine Science Sports Exercise, 40: 1289-96, 2008; Science Daily