Why Sports Massage Should Be Included In Training Plans?
For years, professional athletes have been reaping the benefits of sports massage to assist in recovery and improve performance. However, research has shown sports massage therapy provides many more benefits to all athletes and regular exercisers, not just those at an elite level.
Regardless of the sport you play or the exercise you participate in, physical activity can be repetitive. This repetition can place great stress on the body and possibly lead to overuse injuries and muscle tension. In order to combat the pain and discomfort associated with this, sports massage is used.
Often confused with remedial massage, sports massage therapy takes the athletic patient’s sport or workout, training regimen, competition schedule and condition into consideration. The factors help to determine the various techniques and pressure that should be used in order to tailor the treatment to each specific individual. Unlike remedial, sports massage has a greater focus on general long strokes called “effleurage” to alleviate muscle tension and avoid causing unnecessary discomfort. Sports massage may also incorporate dynamic techniques including Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching, deep tissue and active release techniques.
What are the benefits of sports massage?
When most people think of massage, relaxation and pain relief are most often considered. However, sports massage can provide numerous physical, physiological and psychological benefits to any athletic individual. Scientific evidence has proved that sports massage can facilitate the improvement of performance, by promoting recovery, alleviating pain, preventing further injuries and ensuring relaxation for a clear mental focus. Therefore, these positive effects on the body position massage favourably as an optimum pre and post-training ritual to athletes of all abilities.
Sports massage assists recovery
When an athlete experiences an injury or trauma, scar tissue is formed to naturally support the wound. For example, tennis players may experience tendonitis in the elbow – a form of overuse and microtrauma from repetitive arm movements. As the tendonitis try to heal, scar tissue may be formed in the tendon to support the joint. In some instances, scar tissue does not naturally break down, leading to stiffened joints, reduced range of movement and pain, evidently impeding an athlete’s performance. However, sports massage is a great way to soften this scar tissue, allowing the joints to regain movement and promote the recovery of such injuries.
Similarly, sports massage has been proven to promote circulation and increase blood flow to the tissues in the body. While exercise has also been shown to provide this benefit, sports massage dilates the blood vessels and causes the pores in the tissue membranes to open, allowing important nutrients to easily pass through. This is an essential component to recovery, as nutrients can enhance the healing of an injury.
n fact, according to the San Diego Centre for Health, when the body is in a state of injury, the injured tissues require a greater amount of nutrients. For example, the macronutrient protein is essential to help rebuild damaged soft tissues. Thus, through various sports massage techniques, tissue permeability is increased, allowing damaged tissues to effectively receive the nutrients they need to heal quicker, and more effectively.
Sports massage can help prevent injury
In 2005, a study conducted at the New Zealand Institute of Sport and Recreation Research aimed to evaluate the mechanisms of massage and its impact on sports performance. In fact, their research identified that massage may be useful in preventing sports-related injuries, as the movements involved prime the muscles in preparation for exercise. The researching team acknowledged that the pressure used in sports massage increases range of movement and decreases stiffness, allowing tense muscles to become more flexible.
This flexibility is important, as muscles that are more flexible and have an effective range of movement are less susceptible to injuries. For example, think of the implications this can have on performance and injury if a soccer player’s leg muscles are stiff and tense. Kicking the ball with great force and limited range of movement can cause the muscles to hyperextend beyond what is comfortable, potentially leading to strains, sprains, tears and other painful injuries.
Athletic performance can be enhanced with sports massage
In the same way sports massage provides therapeutic benefits and prevents injury, the technique can provide great improvement to athletic performance. As aforementioned, sports massage improves the flexibility of muscles, resulting in a reduced risk of injury. While preventing injury can aid athletic performance in itself as athletes can continually train vigorously, the flexibility of muscles can too greatly impact performance. Again, flexible muscles have improved range of movement, allowing athletes to perform the necessary movements in a comfortable manner.
However, sports massage has many more physiological responses that can greatly enhance sporting performance. A Canadian study conducted in 2012 and published in the Science Translational Medicine journal discovered that massage promotes the growth of mitochondria cells within skeletal muscle. In fact, the role of the mitochondria is to convert minerals and nutrients such as oxygen into essential energy. Furthermore, an increase in mitochondria cells can greatly intensify the rate that oxygen is utilised, resulting in the muscles working for longer and therefore, facilitating aerobic and muscular endurance. Therefore, during exercise, muscles with adequate oxygen can contract repeatedly without fatigue, increasing athletic endurance. Evidently, this increased endurance can have a positive impact on athletic performance, as fatigue is resisted and the ability to continuously compete at a necessary level is sustained.
While increased endurance and flexibility can have a beneficial impact on athletic performance, sports massage therapy, as conducted by our physiotherapists and chiropractors at our Castle Hill, Parramatta and Wetherill Park clinics, can have advantageous psychological impacts as well. The physical manipulation involved with massage can promote the release of hormones such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin into the body. The chemicals are often referred to as “feel good chemicals” and are responsible for regulating mood and reducing overwhelming emotions associated with stress, depression and anxiety.
This is extremely important for competing athletes at any level. In fact, competitive events can elevate anxious feelings while a clear focus and positive mental state can heighten intrinsic motivation, helping athletes feel confident and focused on achieving their desired goals. Focus and positive mental wellbeing is an imperative component for athletic performance, providing a competitive edge over opponents who are less focused, relaxed and confident due to anxious feelings.
Lactic acid build up can be cleared with sports massage
During strenuous exercise and vigorous training, a lack of oxygen in the muscles can start a complicated process, producing lactate as an alternative energy supply a result. However, a build-up of lactate, otherwise known as lactic acid, can contribute to significant pain and force athletic individuals into lengthy periods of rest and recovery.
However, sports massage therapy is believed to increase the flow of lymphatic fluid which is designed to remove waste from cells back into the bloodstream. Furthermore, as previously discussed massage improves the permeability of soft tissues, also contributing to the removal of waste products such as lactic acid. As these physiological responses to sports massage help remove the accumulation of often painful lactic acid, athletes may adhere to training schedules and experience shorter periods of rest and recovery when implementing sports massage into their overall training plan.
Sports massage helps with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (otherwise referred to as DOMS) is characterised as a delayed discomfort and inflexibility in the muscles after extremely strenuous or unaccustomed exercise, such as beginning a new training program or overloading too quickly, for example. In fact, while pain may initially arise several hours after vigorous physical activity, DOMS may be felt until several days later, with the strongest discomfort experienced between 12-72 hours after exercise.
While the cause for DOMS is currently unclear, some researchers have identified that massage can be useful in alleviating the pain associated with it. An early study published in the 1994 International Sports Medicine Journal found that participants who received a 15-minute massage after strenuous exercise reported lower levels of soreness in comparison to a control group. More recent studies conducted in 2003 and 2005 and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and Journal of Athletic Training respectively, aimed to follow up this initial study and further providing confirmation that massage is beneficial in reducing pain and discomfort associated with DOMS.
Sports massage improves overall health
Whether you’re an elite athlete, developing sportsperson or simply enjoy casual exercise, no individual is immune to the occasional virus or illness. Regardless of the level of exercise you participate in, such illnesses can greatly impact the ability to consistently train or participate in physical activity. However, some research suggests that post-exercise sports massage therapy may provide a boost in immunity, improving overall health. In fact, a 2015 study published in the Physical Therapy in Sport Journal, found a positive relationship between post-exercise massage and immunological benefits.
What do I to consider before scheduling a massage?
An important consideration athletes need to make prior to scheduling a sports massage is their competition schedule. It is essential you make your therapist aware of your training schedule in order to apply the most beneficial techniques. In fact, while pre-competition massage can help athletes enhance their performance, it is essential that the techniques used are more gentle and relaxing, as more firm massages may take a few days to recover.
Additionally, athletes should make sure they are adequately hydrated prior to commencing a massage. Insufficient hydration can lead to stiffened muscles and tense fascia, making the massage more painful. Therefore, particularly you’re considering a pre-training massage, it is essential to consistently hydrate your body to ensure you reap the most benefits from sports massage therapy.