By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
After a long and satisfying workout, there’s nothing like a deep-tissue massage to really relax my sore muscles and help me cool down. I love to get out, play sports, and exercise, and massage therapy keeps my body healthy and ready to perform. It’s an essential part of my fitness and wellness routine, and it should be part of yours, too. In this article, I will explain some of the key benefits of massage therapy for athletes.
Massage therapy has been around for thousands of years. It remains an effective and powerful physical therapy and wellness tool. It manipulates the muscles, connective tissues, tendons, and ligaments inside the body. Ancient Chinese writings have described massage as a tool for illness and injury treatment. To them, it was not just as an easy way to help relax. Massage therapy for athletes is no different.
Physical therapists and trainers are coming to a better understand of the relationship between athletics, exercise, and massage. Consequently, a wide variety of professionals are starting to study massage techniques for athletes. Professional therapist Vinny Aquilino has worked with basketball players like Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. He told Massage Magazine about how his persistence in passing out resumes, coupled with increased interest in massage techniques, helped propel his career get forward. Now, many professional sports teams and world-class athletes employ a team of massage specialists. Many people who play sports at the college and high school level have also started to realize the benefits of massage therapy.
Massage therapy has numerous benefits for athletes. Here are a few that I find the most important for my own physical health and performance.
Athletes who train hard and compete in various sports need to be flexible. A stiff body is not going to be able to run as fast or catch a ball as easy, and it might actually place the athlete at risk of an injury. Massage therapy can effectively relax the body and de-stress certain areas to boost flexibility and blood circulation in the body. Better circulation also helps you breathe more smoothly, which can give you a competitive edge if you’re playing a sport.
Training and competing at a high level takes a toll on the body. Pain to a muscle or tendon can spread to different parts of the body via connective fibers. If left unaddressed, injury or pain in one area of the body can become chronic. Eventually, it may impact your sleep patterns and hinder your ability to perform other physical tasks. During a massage therapy session, the body releases hormones called endorphins that inhibit pain receptors and help the body de-stress. Pain relief helps athletes avoid the use of over-the-counter painkillers. These drugs can lead to a host of side effects, or even addiction if used excessively. The quicker you address your pain in a healthy way, the sooner you can get back to enjoying the active life you love.
An effective massage therapist knows how to relax the body to mitigate the pain that often pops up after an intense workout. Muscle pain that arises later is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS usually appears a few hours after physical activity. It is especially common for athletes who carry out an unfamiliar exercise. Deep-tissue massage therapy and other techniques serve as effective ways to help muscles relax and stay flexible so DOMS does not arise.
A visit to a massage spa can do a lot more than just relieve immediate pain and soreness. Massages help your body return to its optimal alignment. This can have a profound impact on your general posture and symmetry of muscles and bones. Muscular imbalances can reduce your effectiveness while exercising and training. Better alignment and posture reduces unnecessary stress and pain.
Athletes who get hurt performing on the field can face a struggle in getting their body ready for exercise once again. Even minor injuries can throw a wrench into training and diet plans that can affect speed and strength. Regular massages help reduce discomfort and can even help some injuries heal faster. Soft-tissue massage techniques have been shown to effectively help heal chronic and acute injuries. By contrast, while trigger-point massages have been used to pinpoint certain areas of pain. Use these to help injured muscles heal and rehabilitate faster.
Don’t feel like you have to go into the first massage spa you see. Take the time to find a place that can work with your specific needs. This will go a long way toward making sure the time and money you spend on a massage is worthwhile.
Even the atmosphere of a specific massage spa or treatment office is important. Strive to find one that is clean and comfortable and has a peaceful and inviting atmosphere that helps you get relaxed quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the techniques a massage therapist is comfortable carrying out.
Good therapists will also ask you questions about medication you are taking to avoid issues. For example, deep-tissue massages should never be an option if you are taking an anticoagulant.
Interested in some of the many benefits of a massage, but not interested in seeing a therapist? Fortunately, there are a few products and massage tools out on the market that you can use for pain relief. We’ve written about a couple of effective options here at 1and1 Life. These include an overview of the best foam rollers and a breakdown of a massage gun that emits powerful pulses to bring relief to the body.
There are many benefits of massage therapy. A good massage helps athletes recover faster, heal more quickly from injury, and enjoy a stronger immune system. Massage techniques can even reduce the amount of scar tissue around an injury. Research massage therapists and techniques based on your particular needs. The right massage can go a long way toward helping you remain strong, fast, and agile. So, include it in your pursuit of an active and healthy lifestyle.