11 Reasons why a Sports Massage can change your life in 10-30 minutes.
Sports Massage therapy has, for a long time, been important for professionals. England football team fans will recall the emergency treatment sought by its players during the 2018 World Cup semi-final. There, during a tense break at extra time, physiotherapists sought muscle-damage limitation. England lost that semi-final, but the powerful benefits of sport massages remain.
Now Sports Massage therapy is more popular than ever, especially among amateurs.
But why are sportsmen and women so obsessed with Sports Massages? The answer is: because they work. Here are 11 reasons why a Sports Massage can change your life, in as little as 30 minutes.
(1) It is a proven remedy for injury and muscle soreness prevention
Most men and women feel sore after a workout. This muscle soreness generally begins as a dull aching that starts a few hours after exercising and persists for several days. It is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The most common cause of DOMS is thought to be eccentric contraction, when the muscle lengthens as it contracts – this includes movements such as running downhill, lifting weights, or lowering down into a squat or push up. Lower body movement in particular, tends to generate more soreness than upper body exercises.
This soreness generally becomes evident around six-to-eight hours after exercise. It can peak anywhere from one to two full days after a workout, before finally diminishing after about 72 hours.
- One Australian study compared two groups of men and women to see if sports massage therapy was effective. A “control” group who did not receive sports massage therapy and another group that did. Both groups carried out “eccentric exercises” to encourage DOMS. Three hours later, members of the second group received a ten minute sports massage. This study, published in the Journal of Athletic Training, found muscle soreness was “significantly less” for the sports massage group.
The conclusion: sports massage therapy itself alleviated soreness and discomfort by as much as 30 per cent.
- Similarly, this study from the Journal of Sports Sciences concluded that a 30 minute massage worked wonders for bodybuilders post-exercise. Not only did the bodybuilders demonstrate a better recovery rate, it also improved their performances in future workouts, allowing them to recover quicker afterwards.
- And this study, from the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, found sports massage therapy helped with the healing of soft tissue. The techniques increased the healing activity of cells called fibroblasts in massaged tendons, which accelerated the healing process in injured soft tissues. (Fibroblasts are a type of cell in the body that play a critical role in healing connective tissue.)
(2) How sports massage therapists use specific techniques unique to sports massage therapy
It is often asked: What is a sports massage, exactly?
Sports massage therapy is a modern and refined form of massage therapy. Because of this, it uses many similar techniques found in other massage types, and more. Similar techniques include effleurage and petrissage that most people will be familiar with (even if they are unfamiliar with the terms): such as the circular stroking movements, and squeezes, made with the palm of the hand.
But this is where the similarities end. Here are the specifics that make sports massage therapy truly special:
- Unlike other forms of massage, sports massage incorporates what is known as ‘myofasical’. This is a technique that is used to identify pain in the body —more specifically, where pain may be radiating from an exact point in the affected muscle.
- Myofasical release is one of many neuromuscular techniques that sports massage therapists use to aid recovery. In order for neuromuscular techniques (sometimes referred to as “neuromuscular therapy”) to promote recovery from acute and chronic pain syndromes, certain methods are required. These include flexing and stretching the afflicted muscles, and home self-treatment. Unlike regular massages, sports massage therapy requires “homework” — and dedication in order for the full benefits to be achieved, including regular stretching exercises and use of a foam roller.
- The effects of myofasical release are felt deep inside the muscles. The result is less pressure on the joints, and a reduction of pain in the treated area. A sports massage will, unlike other massages, not just treat the muscles but all the other soft tissue as well, such as the ligaments, tendons, and fascia. (The fascia is a thin layer of fibrous tissue that surrounds the muscle.) It applies directly to the source of overworked muscles as a result from strenuous, athletic exercise.
(3) Sports massage vs. deep tissue: How a sports massage is more specific than the deep tissue massage in its treatment of sport-related injuries
It is not uncommon for people to wonder what the difference is between sports massage therapy and a deep tissue massage.
As mentioned above, there are similarities across all of the massage therapies that can cause confusion.
- The clue is in the name: a deep tissue massage focuses on the tissue layers on top of the muscle, though not specifically on the muscle itself. This type of pressure is brilliant to dispel any newly formed knots, or to get rid of “new” tension in an area. For “newer”, and relatively minor, aches and pains, deep tissue massages are at their most effective.
- Sports massage therapy is most effective at treating aches, pains, and knots which have built up over time. These pains are often “older” and more intense than those which deep tissue massage targets.
- The sports massage and deep tissue massage have similar methods and goals, but the sports massage is more “long term”. A deep tissue massage is brilliant at aiding recovery and treating aches and pains in the body, such as low back pain and repetitive strain injury, but persistent injuries and soreness caused by intensive exercise or a highly active lifestyle, many people opt for sports massage therapy.
(4) Sports massage therapists are required to be especially knowledgeable about the anatomy of the body in order for a sports massage to work
A common question is: What does a massage therapist do?
The distinguishing elements that separate sports massage therapy from other massage therapies have already been covered. Sports massage therapy is a refined form of massage. It has the sole ambitions of improving athletic performance and speeding up recovery time (as well as reducing the chances of getting injuries).
Sports massage therapists are there to implement the techniques unique to the sports massage. This requires specialist knowledge that other masseurs or masseuses may not have.
Sports massages are effective because sports massage therapists are required to have an in-depth understanding of the anatomy of the body.
- A solid understanding of the body is vital to help with the identification of abnormalities and problems that could lead to injury if untreated. Muscle manipulation is also a delicate practice.
- There is a fine line in treating a problem and making it worse, which is why such a high-level of anatomical knowledge is required.
(5) A sports massage has “different strokes” that make use of the “healing power of touch”
A question that is often asked is what the difference is between a deep tissue massage and a sports massage. It is less common for a sports massage to be compared to a Swedish massage, but in actuality the sports massage is probably more similar to the Swedish massage than the deep tissue massage.
A sports massage shares many of the techniques of the Swedish massage.
- According to Harvard Medical School, the Swedish massage uses a series of long, gliding strokes that sooth aching muscles, relax the connective tissue, and improve circulation. The Swedish massage has been described as “ideal for newcomers and those wanting a basic, relaxing massage”.
- The sports massage uses many of these same gliding strokes, but with a focus on healing, recovery from, and preventing sports-related injuries.
- What the sports massage incorporates is a modification of the relaxing strokes of the Swedish massage to deliver a tailor-specific treatment.
- The reason a sports massage is often compared with a deep tissue massage — and not the Swedish massage — could be because both the deep tissue massage and the sports massage are more often associated with “good pain”, or a mild discomfort. This is because, in order for a sports massage to work, a greater range of motion is often necessary.
(6) A sports massage before or after a workout has notable benefits on performance
It is common for athletes or sport enthusiasts to have a “pre-event” massage. These are, effectively, warm up massages that can last as little as 15 minutes to nearly an hour and are usually localised to the body parts that will be worked out. Some pre-event sports massages are applied within two hours of the event.
- The benefits of the pre-event massage do not have to be directly before the event, or even on the day of the event. It can be a helpful “warm up” as early as seven days prior to exertion.
- With a pre-event sports massage, the techniques are lessened to increase joint mobility and to allow for the stretching of soft tissue. It is designed to aid relaxation and focus and, in this way, is more like its close cousin the Swedish massage.
- This is also where the differences between the deep tissue massage and the sports massage become even more distinguishable: a deep tissue massage is not recommended before a workout, because the strong pressures on the muscle tissue send the body into recovery mode, and not in a state of readiness.
- Pre-event massages are often accompanied by post-event sports massages. Veterans can jump right into these sessions after a few hours. Like their pre-event equivalents, a good recovery-focused massage can still work wonders for recovery days after an event.
(7) Maintenance massage: sports massage therapy during exercise
During that ill-fated 2018 World Cup semi-final, after a full ninety minutes of play and before extra time, the England team coaching staff scrambled to apply sports massage therapy to their players. During an exercise, this form of sports massage therapy is often referred to as maintenance massage.
- Maintenance massage has, confusingly, two meanings. Runner’s World identifies the maintenance massage as a form of treatment to stave off tightness within the soft tissue during a performance. Depending on the circumstances this can last up to 30 minutes to an hour, usually during the training process for a large event, such as a marathon.
- But the term “maintenance massage” can also be used to refer to regular sport massage sessions. When referred to in this sense, the maintenance message can often be longer than their pre- or post- sports massage counterparts. They also use deeper strokes to work out the tension, with a greater emphasis on the trigger points where the stress may be radiating from within the muscle, and are often recommended at least once a week for optimal effectiveness.
- In order to avoid confusion, it may be helpful to refer to the Runner’s World definition as pit stop maintenance. This creates a vivid and clear image, such as the England team’s rush to recovery before extra time.
(8) A sports massage has enormous health and therapeutic benefits
Sports massages have the added bonus that they incorporate the therapeutic elements that other forms of massage are celebrated for. It helps with injury prevention and recovery, but also with the wellbeing of the athlete. It alleviates the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
- One study even found that a partial sports massage resulted in positive hemodynamic changes in the body, including lower blood pressure and a reduced heart rate.
- As for tackling stress, a sports massage is effective because it encourages the release of certain neurotransmitters, called endorphins, which are secreted from the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus — these endorphins are the body’s natural pain reliever.
- Massage therapy, even as a stand-alone treatment can help sufferers of musculoskeletal conditions by reducing pain and improving function.
(9) A sports massage flushes toxins from the body and improves lymphatic and blood circulation
Massage therapy works to realign the muscles and connective tissue. But the techniques involved also work to flush toxins in the process. There are two ways that these neuromuscular techniques work their magic, and that is by applying pressure and encouraging circulation around the body:
- By applying a technical, mechanical, pressure to the connective tissue and muscles. Toxins tend to lodge around the joints. Over time, if unaddressed, these toxins can accumulate, causing more severe injuries and more frequently. These toxins are “flushed” when stimulated by applying a technical, mechanical, pressure to the connective tissue and muscles.
- This mechanical pressure also helps to improve the body’s circulation. This ensures a good blood supply to all tissues, but also the “venous return”. The venous return is the flow of blood back to the heart. It is this venous return that is essential for the removal of toxins.
- This venous return is also what aids in recovery. DOMS induced by irregular or excessive exercise is caused by lactic acid, and lactic acid restricts blood and oxygen in contracting muscle, which causes pain and muscle weakness. But the sports massage helps to supply blood back to these muscles.
- The compression techniques of sports massage therapy also work to stimulate the lymphatic system. One study found that “direct mechanical pressure” on a localised area of the body enhanced “local micro-circulatory blood and lymph flow results”.
- A stimulated lymph flow means greater lymphatic drainage. A more stimulated lymphatic system not only works to improve recovery time, but can prevent conditions such as oedema and lymphedema.
(10) Massage therapy encompasses wisdom passed down from the ancients
Massage has been used by health care practitioners to treat illnesses and injury for thousands of years. The earliest recorded examples being in Ancient China around 3000 – 2500 BC.
- Massage therapy arose independently in the ancient kingdoms of Egypt, India, and Japan, in some form or another. Elements of the Egyptian massage, the reflexology technique, spread into Europe, and are still used to this day.
- The word ‘massage’ is derived from the Greek word meaning “to work with the hands, as in kneading dough”. Massage treatment in Ancient Greece probably originated at around 800 BC. In the fifth century BC Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, prescribed “friction” and the benefits of rubbing the body as a means to treat physical injuries.
(11) Sports massage therapy has its origins in phenomenal success
Massage therapy itself is ancient. But the practice and refinement of sports massage therapy is barely a lifetime old.
- Sports massage therapy was quietly refined in Finland in the early twentieth century, originating from the Swedish massage system, in the Finnish School of Massage.
- In 1924, Paavo Nurmi, the “Flying Finn”, won five gold medals at the Paris Olympics — including a 5,000m race less than two hours after a 1,500m race, and setting record times. Nurmi’s domination has yet to be equalled. What made the world sit up and take notice of sports massage therapy was Nurmi’s inclusion of this early Finnish practice of sports massage into his training regime.
- During World War Two Jack Meagher, the “father of American sport massage” served in the US army as a medic. He first encountered the techniques of the sports massage when a German POW gave him one.
- Meagher could hardly believe the “astounding” improvements to his athleticism. He later went on to coin the term “sports massage” and created the Meagher Method.
- The Meagher Method is a series of techniques and soft tissue applications that were developed and based on Meagher’s knowledge of muscular kinetics, and the anatomy and physiology of the body.
Feeling sore after a massage? Good. Feeling sore after a workout? Then ask yourself: is there somewhere I can get a sports massage near me?
Sports massage therapy has never been more popular with professionals, amateurs, and hobbyists alike. Its long and prolific success is a great testament to its effectiveness.
The pain associated with DOMS is a result of the micro trauma inflicted on the muscles and the surrounding connective tissues after a workout, which can lead to inflammation. Treating and preventing DOMS is one of the primary functions of sports massage therapy.
Sports massage therapy has been described as the “targeted therapeutic treatment for the unique physical and biomechanical needs of athletes”, but that doesn’t mean sports massage therapy is restricted to athletes or sport enthusiasts only.
In fact, as has been proved, sports massage therapy is home to a wealth of other benefits that non-sport enthusiasts may find appealing. This may be those who no longer exercise so much and may still be carrying the knots and aches of a highly active recent past; those who still walk regularly, or for whoever is curious.