When it comes to receiving a massage, most individuals wouldn’t have
to think twice or even take much persuasion. However, most would not consider paying a qualified sports therapist to give them a sports massage. This is not your typical end of the day massage you would give your partner or spouse in order to relax them; sports massages are designed to release muscle tension and restore balance to the musculo-skeletal system – and can be (but really don’t have to be) quite painful or uncomfortable. However, the benefits can be immense, and include physical, physiological and psychological improvements.
Before considering the potential benefits sport massage has to offer, it is important to recognise that massage itself is not only for injured individuals but can also offer numerous benefits to uninjured individuals who are looking to enhance their sporting performance. Before reducing the benefits of massage down into the three categories highlighted above, let us first consider some general enhancements massage can offer;
Increase sporting performance.
Maintain the human body in a healthy condition.
Prevent injuries and inflexibility.
Reduce the recovery period following an injury.
Enhanced tissue permeability: Massage causes the tissue membrane pores to widen, allowing fluids and nutrients to pass through more readily. This enables waste products such as lactic acid to be removed rapidly and creates an environment whereby oxygen and nutrients are quickly delivered to the target muscles, allowing an enhanced recovery.
Increased flexibility: Massage stretches muscle tissue in a multidirectional manner, both longitudinally and laterally. It can also have a similar effect on the muscular sheath and surrounding fascia, allowing a beneficial release of stored tension and pressure. Scar tissue realignment: Each and every time a muscle receives trauma or injury, scar tissue is formed which can affect the muscle itself as well as the tendons and ligaments. If not treated correctly at the time of injury, this scar tissue can form haphazardly, resulting in the potential for long term inflexibility issues. Massage assists in realigning the scar tissue formation and reduces the likelihood of subsequent injury and/or pain.
Enhanced micro circulation: Massage enhances the blood flow to the tissues of the target muscles in a similar manner to exercise. In addition to this, massage also causes blood vessels to dilate enabling oxygen and nutrients to pass through more readily. Physiological Benefits:
Inhibition of pain: A combination of tension and waste products within a muscle can often result in the sensation of pain. Massage lessons this painful feeling by its ability to reduce tension and remove waste products. It also encourages the release of endorphins. Stimulates relaxation response: Massage creates an environment whereby heat generation, enhanced circulation and increased flexibility are all promoted. All of these factors play a role in stimulating mechanoreceptors in the body and creating relaxation.
Reduced anxiety levels: Through stimulating a relaxation response, massage has the additional benefit of lowering anxiety levels, creating a mood enlightening experience.
Invigorating bodily response: If the sports massage is completed utilising brisk movements prior to a sporting event then it can create an invigorating bodily response.
Am I going to feel less sore afterwards?
There’s the rub indeed.
And yes, you are. Expert opinion holds that muscle soreness isn’t caused by lactic buildup, but by microscopic damage to muscle fibres. But massage still has the power to soothe by promoting healing through breaking down fibrous tissue and adhesions.
An Ohio State University review of 27 studies backs this, finding evidence that massage therapy can alleviate symptoms of the dreaded delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
You may find massage best a couple of days after a hard workout or race to allow initial soreness and stiffness to subside. By that point you should just about be able to hobble to the appointment, too.
How do I know which is the best kind of massage for me?
Different strokes for different folks. There may be more than one type of therapy that could effectively meet your needs.
Look for a therapist who has a range of techniques at their disposal, and who can match the treatment to your particular needs at each session – which can vary every time.
No single technique can accomplish all the aims of sports massage. Specific or unusual problems and extreme circumstances may mean you need to look beyond general sports massage.
So how’s it going to feel?
Be warned: it’s not all a soft touch.
Techniques vary from the gentle ‘effleurage’, which is a long, relaxing gliding movement towards your heart to aid venous return, to ‘petrissage’, a somewhat less relaxing kneading of muscles to boost circulation and mobilise tissue.
Then there are compression techniques to promote relaxation in tight muscles or reduce sensitivity of painful ‘trigger points’, and friction techniques to work on scar tissue or adhered tissue that doesn’t move freely because of overuse or injury.
Scar tissue will be treated with more vigorous techniques, and adhered tissue with more gentle effleurage. As a rule of fingers and thumbs, don’t count on drifting off for a nap if your problems run deeper than a tough training session.
Hopefully this article has provided you with numerous benefits of sports massage, including those that are considered physical, physiological and psychological in nature. I am sure you will agree that all of the benefits listed above would offer the potential to enhance your sporting performance and enjoyment if carried out on a regular basis. So if you ever needed one good reason to book in for a sports massage, now you have many!
Our partners at the Sports Performance Clinic and at Energised Performance offer a variety of different services and options – both assisting with injury rehab, ongoing/in training massage and pre/post race offerings. Get in touch with them to see how they can help!