As an athlete, you can derive significant health and performance benefits from receiving regular sports massage therapy. Sports massage therapy is a form of massage therapy that helps athletes recover from or avoid sports-related injuries, and typically utilizes more vigorous forms of massage to facilitate muscle healing or relaxation. Sports massage therapy should be performed before and after a competition to prevent injuries and loss of mobility and maximize the life of your sporting career.
According to SportsInjuryClinic.net, the physical benefits of sports massage therapy include the following: improved blood flow and nutrient delivery to your muscles, efficient clearing of harmful metabolic byproducts, tension reduction in your fascia, reduction of your scar tissue, improved tissue elasticity and improvements in your tissue's ability to absorb nutrients, also known as micro-circulation.
The physical benefits of sports massage therapy are important for all athletes, especially those engaged in sports where physical contact and bruising are likely, such as football, rugby or ice hockey. Endurance athletes also are excellent candidates for sports massage therapy, as the long training hours and the nature of competitive endurance activities, such as running, cycling and cross-country skiing, place considerable strain on your musculoskeletal system. Sports massage therapy helps relieve stress on your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles.
The principle physiological benefits of sports massage therapy include pain reduction and relaxation; two important benefits that can keep you healthy and competitive over time. Sports-related pain can result from a muscle strain, a contusion or bruise or excessive use of a muscle. Overuse of a muscle or muscle group may result in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), a phenomenon that's long been associated with increased physical exertion, according to Len Kravitz, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at the University of New Mexico.
A 2005 study published in the "Journal of Athletic Training," concludes that massage therapy is effective at alleviating DOMS by approximately 30 percent and reducing swelling, but it has no effects on muscle function. Muscle relaxation is another important physiological benefit of sports massage therapy. Muscles relax when they're exposed to heat, receive increased blood circulation and are stretched appropriately; all common results of an effective sports massage therapy session. A reflex relaxation also is caused when your mechanoreceptors--tiny sensory receptors that respond to pressure or changes in tissue length--are stimulated during massage.
The psychological benefits of sports massage include a reduction in your approach anxiety, enhanced feelings of invigoration and rejuvenation and an increased awareness of your mind-body connection, according to SportsMassageTherapy.info. Approach anxiety, which is the anxiety you feel about an upcoming match or event, is a common part of sports participation.
A massage therapist skilled in the art of sports massage will know what techniques to use to help counter your anxiety. The simple act of having your body worked on can give you a psychological edge that reduces your anxiety. After you've received a sports massage, it's likely that you'll feel a little sore, but you'll also feel invigorated and refreshed, ready to compete again at your highest level. The restorative effects of massage therapy and the corresponding psychological benefits are crucial for your continued athletic success. So too is an awareness of your mind-body connection, which massage therapy supports. Massage therapy can provide you with an awareness of your body that few other therapeutic modalities can match.
Sports massage is reported to have many beneficial effects in athletes. Sports massage can be used pre-performance, post-performance, during training or for rehabilitation. Athletes of all levels may benefit from sports massage. If you are looking for a way to improve your athletic performance, then sports massage may be for you. Learn more about the possible performance enhancing effects of sports massage.
What is Sports Massage?
Sports massage is a systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body that focuses on muscles relevant to a particular sport. Runner Paavo Nurmi, known as the "Flying Finn," was one of the early users of sports massage. Nurmi is said to have used sports massage during the 1924 Olympics in Paris where he won five gold medals. In the United States, Jack Meagher is thought to be the father of sports massage in the United States.
Many different movements and techniques are used in sports massage. Examples of these techniques include; Swedish style massage, effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), compression, friction, tapotement (rhythmic striking), vibration, gliding, stretching, percussion and trigger points. These movements and techniques are used to try to help the athlete's body achieve maximum performance and physical conditioning with a decreased chance of injury or pain and a quicker recovery.
What are the Benefits of Sports Massage?
Many benefits from sports massage have been reported based on experience and observation. Some of the benefits are to the mind (psychological) and some are to the body (physiological). Possible side effects of sports massage are tenderness or stiffness for 1 to 2 days after the sports massage. A skin reaction due to the massage oils is also possible. But for the most part, sports massage is safe. Some of the reported benefits include:
Now that you know the reported benefits of sports massage, let's find out if the research studies support those benefits. Research studies regarding perceived fatigue and recovery showed that subjects felt they were less fatigued and felt like they recovered faster after sports massage. Decreased anxiety, improved mood and well-being were also noted. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) decreased by about 30% in one research study. Other studies support the finding that DOMS does decrease after sports massage.
Now for some benefits that are not supported by research. The ability of sports massage to help the muscles get rid of lactic acid is not supported in research studies. Many researchers feel this is linked to the fact that increased blood flow to muscles after sports massage cannot be supported either. A quicker recovery after sports massage is not yet supported by the research. Studies do support that active recovery (low-intensity exercise after work-out) is the best method of decreasing the amount of lactic acid that builds up after exercise and speeds recovery.
So what does all of this mean? It seems that the positive mind (psychological) benefits of sports massage are indeed supported by research studies. Study findings also support that sports massage does not negatively effect performance, but the positive body (physiological) benefits on performance are not quite as clear. More research is needed on the positive body effects and also on the mind/body interaction after sports massage.
Martin NA, Zoeller RF, Robertson RJ, Lephart SM. The Comparative Effects of Sports Massage, Active Recovery, and Rest in Promoting Blood Lactate Clearance After Supramaximal Leg Exercise. J Athl Train. 1998 Jan;33(1):30-35.
Moraska A. Sports massage. A comprehensive review. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2005 Sep;45(3):370-80.
Ogai R, Yamane M, Matsumoto T, Kosaka M. Effects of petrissage massage on fatigue and exercise performance following intensive cycle pedaling. Br J Sports Med. 2008 Apr 2 [Epub ahead of print].
Robertson A, Watt JM, Galloway SD. Effects of leg massage on recovery from high intensity cycling exercise. Br J Sports Med. 2004 Apr;38(2):173-6.
Shoemaker JK, Tiidus PM, Mader R. Failure of manual massage to alter limb blood flow: measures by Doppler ultrasound. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 May;29(5):610-4.
Weerapong P, Hume PA, Kolt GS. The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sports Med. 2005;35(3):235-56.
Zainuddin Z, Newton M, Sacco P, Nosaka K. Effects of massage on delayed-onset muscle soreness, swelling, and recovery
of muscle function. J Athl Train. 2005 Jul-Sep;40(3):174-80.