Athletes are always looking for ways to sharpen their competitive edge. Sports massage continues to be a popular supplement to precise training methods and a careful diet for athletes of all abilities. A specialized, vigorous form of soft tissue massage, sports massage focuses on the musculoskeletal system. Massages are specially tailored to athletes, to focus on the areas of the body that are strained from overuse in repetitive and aggressive movements playing sports. Massage Therapists trained in sports massage use a variety of techniques such as stretching, relaxation, cross-fiber friction, pressure point release and joint mobilization to target the specific muscle groups used in a particular sport.
Having this expert knowledge gives them the ability to provide directed assistance to the body exactly where it is needed, which helps athletes train more effectively, improve performance during competition and minimize the possibility of injury.
During training and for ongoing care, researchers have studied the actual effect that massage has on athletes. It was found that massage helps in a few key ways. First, because sports massage is focused on the manipulation of soft tissue, the techniques used dilate blood vessels to promote circulation. This enhances blood flow to the area, delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to the tissue. This is crucial in helping recover stressed muscle tissue and ensures the body has the energy it needs to absorb the full effects of training. Researchers at McMaster University found that using sports massage after an intense training session causes mitochondria to enlarge and grow new supplies at a more rapid rate. These are the cells responsible for converting nutrients into useful energy, which means that athletes can improve endurance performance – just through massage! As well, a good post-training massage will help the body to cool down, meaning less recovery time between workouts. Even just 10 minutes of massage following an intense physical exertion can reduce inflammation in the muscle significantly; meaning faster recovery time and better overall long-term muscle health.
Using sports massage in the time immediately leading up to a competition is critical for both mental and physical preparation. Sports massage right before a competition has similar effects to warming up. It limbers the body by increasing blood flow, range of motion in the joints and brings oxygen to key muscle groups. When proper massage techniques are used, endurance can actually increase due to the extra oxygen delivered to the area. Long-distance runners, boxers and field sport players use this technique to increase the rate that muscles use oxygen. Meaning, they can exert more energy at a faster rate over a longer time horizon, without experiencing muscle fatigue.
The physical side of massage only begins to touch on its effects. There is also a strong relationship between performance and massage due to psychological benefits. It was found that athletes who receive a massage 30 minutes before competition, as opposed to resting or other relaxation techniques, have higher performance levels in competition. Massage minimizes performance anxiety and stress through decreasing cortisol levels significantly. This is the chemical directly related to stress. Meanwhile, massage increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These chemicals normalize mood and increase confidence, focus and concentration. It is these neurotransmitters that communicate between the brain and the body. They are critical for pain management as well as focusing the mind during competition, which is important for any tasks requiring tactical maneuvering and strategy. Another great psychological impact of massage is its effect on perception. In a study of boxers, it was found that a massage between matches changed athletes’ exertion of energy in successive events. They could not find any specific changes in the brain or body. Just knowing that their body had received professional attention gave them the mental capacity to exert more energy when required. Obviously, this gave them a heightened competitive edge.
Unlike elite athletes, for most of us who participate in sports, getting a massage after each training session is a bit out of budget. However, this does not mean that a regular scheduled massage regime is something to be avoided. Having massages at regular intervals, two to four times a month is optimal. This ensures the body can regularly release built up adhesions, metabolic buildup, tension and muscle stiffness to prevent injury.
If you want to talk to one of our physiotherapists or a trained sports massage therapist to arrange an appointment, call us today. We wish you all the best in your summer sports and hope to see you around the clinic, helping to keep your body in peak condition!