Sports massage is an immensely popular service used by athlete’s pre-performance, post-performance and during sporting events. It can aid in rehabilitation and decrease the pain and tightness often felt after exercising.
What is sports massage?
Sports massage is a technique of massage that is specifically designed to aid in sports and sports injuries. It is not considered a relaxing form of massage and can often be quite painful for the athlete. Sports massage works by using systematic manipulation of the individual’s soft tissues, focusing on the muscles used most frequently within the sport. The combination of many massage techniques aims to manipulate the athlete’s body to maximise the performance potential of the individual, this occurs through stretching and loosening tight muscles, stimulating inactive muscles, and increasing the elasticity and health of the body’s soft tissues.
What does Sports Massage involve?
Once the therapist has been informed of the issues faced by the individual many techniques can be used to achieve desired results. These techniques can include but aren’t limited to:
- Soft tissue release – involves stretching and kneading tight tissues and muscles
- Neuromuscular techniques – involves targeting trigger points to decrease pain and tension
- Positional release – involves relaxing and releasing muscles that are overactive
- Fascial release – involves working with deep connective tissues around the muscles
Benefits of Sports Massage
Sports massage has many benefits that can aid an athlete in their performance and recovery. Both psychological and physical benefits have been reported by many individuals and studies.
These benefits include:
- Pain relief (release tension in soft tissue that can cause pain)
- Decreased chance or effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- Can prevent injuries if used pre-performance
- Increase range of motion
- Increased joint flexibility
- Decreased muscle tightness (tension)
- Decreased nerves
- Decreased muscle spasms
- Improved sleep
- Improved recovery
- Improved heart rate and blood pressure regulation
- Increased circulation and lymphatic flow
- Aids in relaxation
There are not a lot of side effects to sports massage if it is done correctly, however, some individuals may experience tenderness and stiffness in the treated areas for a few days after the massage. Some individuals may also have skin irritations to the oils or creams used.
What does the Research say?
Many research studies have been conducted to determine the specific effects of sports massage on performance and recovery. Many studies have discovered that athletes who receive sports massage after exercise have a less perceived fatigue level and feel they recover quicker. Studies have also concluded that sports massage aids to decrease anxiety levels, increases sleep, and reduces the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
While there are many benefits of sports massage (See above), there is also some unproven beliefs around it as well. There has been little research to support that sports massage decreases lactic acid build up, this is thought to be because the sports massage does not increase muscular blood flow but instead, actually decreases the amount of blood flow to muscles during the massage. Increased recovery time is also not supported by research as of yet, however evidence supports that elements of an individual’s recovery can be increased by sports massage. Active recovery is still seen to be the leading recovery tool in decreasing lactic acid build up and increasing recovery.
Overall, sports massage has supporting evidence that it aids in psychological recovery of an individual and can positively impact performance and recovery if used correctly.
Sports massage is a safe and effective way to improve performance and recovery after exercise. As always, there are some injuries and conditions that sports massage will not help, and these injuries must be treated by a doctor or other allied health professionals.