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‘Recover quicker, train harder, and increase flexibility’: massage therapy for elite paracyclists, a mixed-methods study
  1. Ann Blair Kennedy1,
  2. Nirav Patil2,
  3. Jennifer L. Trilk1
  1. 1 Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, Greenville, South Carolina, USA
  2. 2 Department of Quality Management, Greenville Health System, Greenville, South Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ann Blair Kennedy, University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville; kenneda5{at}


Objectives Massage therapy (MT) enhances recovery by reducing pain and fatigue in able-bodied endurance athletes. In athletes with disabilities, no studies have examined similar MT outcomes, yet participation in sport has increased by >1000 athletes from 1996 to 2016 Olympic games. We examined the effect of MT on pain, sleep, stress, function and performance goals on the bike, as well as quality of life off the bike, in elite paracycling athletes.

Methods This is a quasi-experimental, convergent, parallel, mixed-methods design study of one team, with nine paracycling participants, in years 2015 and 2016. One-hour MT sessions were scheduled one time per week for 4 weeks, and then every other week for the duration of the time the athlete was on the team and/or in the study. Closed and open-ended survey questions investigating athlete goals, stress, sleep, pain and muscle tightness were gathered pre and post each MT session, and every 6 months for health-related quality of life. Quantitative analysis timepoints include baseline, 4–6 months of intervention and final visit. Additional qualitative data were derived from therapists’ treatment notes, exit surveys, and follow-up emails from the athletes and therapists.

Results Significant improvement was found for sleep and muscle tightness; quantitative results were reinforced by athlete comments indicating MT assisted in their recovery while in training. There were no improvements in dimensions measuring quality of life; qualitative comments from athletes suggest reasons for lack of improvement.

Conclusion This real-world study provides new information to support MT for recovery in elite paracyclists.

  • massage therapy
  • disability
  • athletes
  • muscle tonus
  • sleep
  • quality of life

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  • Contributors ABK designed the intervention, analysed the qualitative data and prepared the manuscript. NP analysed the quantitative data and helped to prepare the manuscript. JLT helped to design the intervention and helped to prepare the manuscript.

  • Funding This project was funded by the generous sponsorship of Team Roger C Peace by the American Massage Therapy Association.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the Greenville Health System Office of Research Compliance and Administration (Pro00036860).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.