by Nick Mattis, SPT, Ray Moore, PT


There are several aspects that go into game days when playing sports: traveling, getting suited up, pre-game warm-up, the game itself, and last but not least, the post-game recovery. This article looks into the different types of recovery strategies used in male soccer players to help them recover the fastest and most efficiently. Once competition ends, the body’s neuromuscular performance declines while in the recovery phase. The performance level often does not recover to baseline for 3-4 days after the end of the game through passive rest (1). This can be an issue as most athletes play 2-3 games per week, requiring them to be at peak levels much faster than the typical 3-4 day recovery period. Approximately how many intense intermittent actions are performed by soccer players during a match? Soccer players perform around 200 intense actions throughout a match on average. Due to this high number, it is vital for the body recovery properly.

Active vs Passive Recovery

Recovery methods fall under two different categories, active and passive. Passive strategy is quite simple and is the process of resting and relaxing without any other form of recovery. This allows the body to rest, recharge, and replenish energy storages in the muscles. In regards to active recovery, there are many different strategies used. Some of the following that were addressed in the article include: aerobic exercise, water-aerobic exercise, massage, compression garments, electrostimulation, and cold-water immersion. Which is true of the active recovery strategies that were reviewed? Active recovery techniques such as electrostimulation and aerobic exercise has been found to be more effective in the recovery process than passive rest. Which compounding factor of the players must be considered when implementing active recovery techniques? When performing the active recovery techniques there is one factor that must be considered, aerobic fitness level. This will often corelates directly to the removal of lactate as well as their adaptation to modalities.


There are a few different treatments that fall under this category. The two mainly focused on are an actual hands-on massage to sore/tired muscles and the use of a foam roller. The massage was analyzed in terms of a normoxic (muscles re-saturated with O2) as well as hypoxic (muscles deprived of O2) as would be found in high intensity activity. What effect was found for massage under hypoxic conditions compared to massage alone? Studies have shown that the massage is equally effective when comparing hypoxic and normoxic conditions. This means that the muscles are not time sensitive when receiving a massage during the recovery phase. On the other hand, foam rolling is a great way to lower blood lactate levels and speed up the recovery process. Foam rollers are inexpensive and easy to obtain and are practically a must for high intensity athletes looking to recovery faster. After strenuous activity, the muscles primarily used should be rolled to help recovery. What should be considered when implementing foam rolling to decrease perceptive muscle soreness? Rolling over sore muscles can be painful, which is why correct posture is the most important key to controlling perceived muscle soreness. Having the correct posture can reduce the amount of pain felt, while also targeting the muscle better. Overall massage is a very beneficial technique in the recovery process. What effect does massage have on blood lactate levels compared to passive recovery? Massage decreases blood lactate levels at a much faster rate than passive recovery (rest) making you feel less sore and ready to return to the field.

Compression Garments

Compression garments are often leg or arm sleeves that are tight around the extremity and used to reduce swelling. Studies have shown using placebo and Far Infra-Red clothing that it took the participants a longer time to feel the muscle soreness, also know as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However, this was just a perceived feeling of the clothing and not actually a decrease in any of the biomarker levels in the body. How significant have compression garments been found to attenuate exercised-induced biomarker response? The compression garments have been found to reduce the biomarker response but at a level that is deemed nonsignificant. In other words, they may help but there are better techniques for recovery.

Electrostimulation (ESTIM)

ESTIM is a process of using electronic signals transmitted through nodes placed on the skin to the muscle to achieve a desired result. There are several uses of ESTIM, but for recovery, the purpose is to increase blood flow through the heavily exercised muscles. This allows O2 to be returned to the muscles as well has waste produced by the muscle to be removed. Which best describes the observed effect of electronic blood flow stimulation? Studies have shown that after stimulation, anaerobic exercise improved one hour after the intervention. This was deemed beneficial for athletes who compete in competitions that have several events or rounds in one day with short recovery periods in-between.

Cold-Water Immersion

One of the most popular forms of recovery is the cold-water immersion. This has been seen primarily in terms of the “ice-bath” that many athletes hop into after an exhausting practice or game. The science supports the movement too. What effect did cooled phase change material have on recovery in elite soccer players? Cold-water immersion has found to accelerate the recovery process in the studies performed on male soccer players. However, unlike massage, there is not a broad window of time where it is found to be effective in the recovery process. What conclusion was made for the use of cold-water immersion as a recovery technique? It has found to be beneficial in the recovery of soccer players immediately after the match. Therefore, if you are unable to submerge your lower extremities for 10-15 minutes immediately after the strenuous exercise, then it often will not be beneficial in the recovery process.

Physical Therapy First

Here at Physical Therapy First, we have a team of skilled therapists who are able to assess, educate, and treat athletes in recovery from injury or regular sport activity to return them to their functional needs. Through manual techniques and other interventions discussed in this article, we can restore ROM, increase strength, and return you back to activity. We are able to educate you on the proper recovery process including how to optimize your return to sport as quickly as possible. Call today to schedule an appointment.


1) Ribeiro, João PhD1,2,3; Sarmento, Hugo PhD4; Silva, Ana F. PhD2,5,6; Clemente, Filipe M. PhD5 Practical Postexercise Recovery Strategies in Male Adult Professional Soccer Players: A Systematic Review, Strength and Conditioning Journal: April 2021 – Volume 43 – Issue 2 – p 7-22. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000582