Sports massage

Lie down and relax to improve your performance

If you are not getting a regular sports massage you are missing out on a great opportunity to improve your running. Sports massage should play an important part in the life of any runner whether you are injured or not.

Massage has a number of benefits including:

  • Maintaining the body generally in better condition.
  • Preventing injuries and loss of mobility.
  • Restoring mobility to injured muscle tissue.
  • It may extend the overall life of your sporting career and boost performance. It works through physical, physiological as well as psychological processes.

Physical effects are:

1. Pumping blood and lymphatic fluids around the body
The stroking movements in massage suck fluid through blood vessels and lymph vessels. By increasing pressure in front of the stroke, a vacuum is created behind. This is especially important in tight or damaged muscle tissues, as a tight muscle will squeeze blood out like a sponge, depriving the tissues of vital nutrients and energy to repair.

2. Increasing tissue permeability
Deep massage causes the pores in tissue membranes to open, enabling fluids and nutrients to pass through. This helps remove waste products such as lactic acid and encourages the muscles to take up oxygen and nutrients, which aid recovery.

3. Stretching effects
Massage can stretch tissues that could not be stretched by the usual methods. The bundles of muscle fibres (fasciculi) are stretched sideways as well as longitudinally. Massage can also stretch the sheath or fascia that surrounds the muscle, so releasing any tension or pressure build-up within.

4. Breaking down scar tissue
Scar tissue is the result of previous injuries or trauma and can affect muscle, tendons and ligaments. This can lead to inflexible tissues that are prone to injury and pain. Massage may not remove it but should make it more supple and flexible allowing normal function.

5. Improving tissue elasticity
Training can make tissues hard and inelastic. This is one reason why hard training may not result in improvements. Massage helps reverse this by stretching the tissues and circulating blood and nutrients.

6. Opening microcirculation
Massage increases blood flow to tissues (although so does exercise, in fact probably more!) What massage also does though, is open or dilate the blood vessels by stretching them. This enables nutrients to pass through more easily.

Physiological effects are:

1. Reducing of pain
Tension and waste products in muscles can often cause pain. Massage helps reduce this in many ways, including releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

2. Relaxing both muscles and the entire body
Muscles relax through the heat generated, circulation and stretching. Mechanoreceptors in the muscle, senses: touch, pressure, tissue length and warmth. When they are stimulated there is a reflex relaxation of the muscles.

Psychological effects are:

1. Anxiety reduction
Through the effects mentioned above relaxation is induced and so reduces anxiety levels.

2. Invigorating
If massage is done with brisk movements such as what would be done before an event, this can produces an invigorating feeling.

That is the why and how of sports massage but when should it be applied? Sports massage can be useful for aiding recovery after an event such as a marathon – immediately after, or a day or two after. The best results are obtained when the massage is performed regularly i.e. weekly. Be careful though not to have a deep massage the day before a big race. This might make you tired and lethargic or if the massage was firm you may have soreness that could hinder performance.