Why Do Athletes Need Massages? Benefits of Sports Massage
Athletes are just like normal people, albeit more active and able to endure a tougher workout. They are also still prone to developing both minor and very serious injuries. These injuries occur especially when they practice bad habits or do not give themselves enough time to recover after a workout or smaller injury.
Recovery and Injury Prevention
Massages can be an important part of athletic recovery and injury prevention for people who engage in a lot of physical activity and sports. Whether or not someone is a professional athlete or a “weekend warrior”, a massage can target the specific regions of muscles that are affected by the particular type of activity. Massage is highly customizable to the patient’s physical and mental needs. Some patients are more prone to injuries in certain areas due to family history or a history of previous injuries. Very often, the major concern for athletes is “repetitive and often aggressive movements”.
This type of therapy can not only help the athletes recover from their pain, but the therapy can assist the athlete in event preparation as well. It can help with “flexibility, reduces fatigue, improves endurance, helps prevent injuries and prepares their body and mind”. This can all help optimize sports performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research discussed how this therapy can improve “hip-flexor range of motion”, in a very short period of time. This treatment can “target muscle-tendon junctions”. Athletes receiving treatment (before or after activity) have been shown to have a decrease in muscle soreness, according to Dr. Margaret Jones, PhD.
Massage might act as part of the warm up for the tough physical activity that the patient is about to engage in and massage may also be part of the cooldown process. Patients might also choose to seek out the services of a massage therapists, even on days when they are not about to participate in tough athletic activities, to keep up the maintenance of their body’s peak physical condition.1
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Massage Therapy for Athletes
Sports massages often include the use of Swedish techniques. The purpose is to stimulate circulation in the lymphatic and circulatory systems. Additional “trigger point therapy” can “break down adhesions”, also known as muscle knots. A major goal of sports therapy is to increase range of motion.
Types of Therapy
The four basic types of this therapy include: rehabilitative (to alleviate injury pain), restorative (to allow training with less injuries), and pre- and post-event therapies. In a pre-event session, which typically lasts for about 15-45 minutes, the athlete receives therapy on the parts of the body that will sustain the exertion during the event. In the post-event session, given within 2 hours after the end of the event, the therapy aims to “normalize the body’s tissues”.
People who suffer from specific problem areas (i.e., runners’ knees, frozen shoulder, pulled hamstring) can be helped with this therapy, as well as a movement therapist. For some clients, this therapy will only focus on those problem areas, instead of a full-body treatment. Those who are not partaking in athletic events but still wish to participate in regular physical activity might also choose to receive sports massage before or after their workout.2
Hydration and Food Intake
Athletes should remember to stay well hydrated prior to lying down on the massage table, as dehydration stiffens the muscles and leads to the likelihood of a painful massage. Despite the commonly held belief, massage does not increase dehydration in the body, so normal hydration habits can be resumed following the massage. Athletes should not eat too much before receiving their massage, as the therapy does slow some functions of the body, such as digestion, leading to more discomfort during the session.3
Massage, especially following a workout, is a great way to achieve relaxation and reduce stress. Massage naturally helps the body release endorphins for pain relief and create a calming effect on the mind and body. Both the mind and body are helped in this way, readying the patient for future workouts. Patients should always remember to fit some down time into their schedule to help their body further naturally recuperate and prepare for the next sporting event.4
The American Massage Therapy Association offers certification. There are three courses involved for these therapists: Pre and Post Event Sports Massage, Advanced Sports Massage, and Myofascial Sports Massage. Therapists going through the program have to take written and practical exams. They also receive in-field training by working with athletes at real sporting events. During certification, the therapists learn special techniques, how to recognize sports-related injuries (and their severity), stretching techniques, and advanced Myofascial Sports Massage (MSM). Therapists also study the various types of sports-related injuries, such as neck strain, back pain, knee issues, shoulder pain, and foot/ankle problems. In general, spas that offer massage are not supposed to list sports massage as one of the services that they offer unless they have a few therapists specifically trained in the subject.5