By Michelle Fletcher
An Athlete’s peak performance may be dependent upon the proper use and application of sports massage. More than a treatment for injuries, sports massage produces overwhelming benefits for athletes physically, physiologically, and psychologically.
Sports massage is designed to prepare the athlete for their best performance, reduce fatigue, and relieve muscle swelling and tension. During physical activity—especially strenuous—muscle tension builds up in the body’s soft tissues. Due to overextension or overuse, minor injuries and lesions occur in these tissues that can cause a great deal of pain and poor athletic performance. Sports massage helps alleviate pain and prevent such injuries that greatly affect flexibility, mobility, response time, and overall performance in athletic events.
One of the most common setbacks for athletes is delayed-onset muscle soreness, more commonly known as DOMS. This refers to muscle pain that typically develops several hours postexercise and consists of predominantly eccentric muscle actions—especially if the exercise in unfamiliar. Although DOMS is likely a symptom eccentric-exercise-induced muscle damage, it does not necessarily affect muscle damage. Recent studies have concluded that sports massage may help reduce and prevent the often-painful and debilitating effects of DOMS in athletes.
An Australian study involving 5 healthy men and women who performed a variety of new exercises, has concluded that massage played a key role in easing DOMS. “Massage was effective in alleviating DOMS by approximately 30% and reducing swelling.” Massage can reduce this though the improved blood and lymphatic system circulation that assists in the removal of metabolites and other toxins.
Heavily exercised muscles may also lose their capacity to relax. This causes chronically tight muscles, and loss of flexibility. Lack of flexibility is often linked to muscle soreness, and predisposes athletes to injuries-- especially muscle pulls and tears. Blood flow through tight muscles is poor (ischemia), which also causes pain. A regular routine of massage therapy is very effective in combating these effects of heavy exercised muscles.
“Muscular strain is a common sports-related injury with the potential to chronically impair performance when sound principles of injury recognition, immediate treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention are ignored.” When preventive techniques such as sports massage are applied, according to Glen A Halvorson, MD, severe muscular strain may be avoided.
Sports massage should be applied before and after athletic events, with many “maintenance” sessions in-between meets or competitions. Pre-event sports massage is focuses on warming-up the major muscles to be used and improves tissue pliability. It also helps get the athlete in a good mental state for competition and prepares them to reach their athletic performance potential. Post-event sports massage is given following an athletic event and is mainly focused upon recovery. This type of sports massage is geared toward reducing muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise.
Integrated into a weekly training regimen, athletes may avoid DOMS, relax and revitalize muscles, and feel calmer and more focused before and after events.
Zainuddin, Zainal et al. Effects of Massage on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, Swelling, and Recovery of Muscle Function. Journal of Athletic Training. 2005 Jul-Sep; 40(3): 174-180.
Halvorson, Glen A. MD. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Western Journal of Medicine. 1986 June; 144(6): 734–735.