Benefits of Massage Therapy for Athletes

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Benefits of Massage Therapy for Athletes


Muscle tension, injuries and pain are as much a part of an athlete’s life as the cheerleaders on the side line, the exhilaration of the action, and the high provided by scoring, achieving, or crossing the line in first place. Evidence is growing that massage therapy should become part of the game and be included in the fitness training and therapeutic regimens.

Whichever type of sport is involved, it is likely that at some time or another, all athletes will feel the effects in terms of stiffness, pain, and even injury. This is often because of muscles which have been pushed beyond their limits.

This is where sports massage therapy comes in, but it is increasingly being seen as contributing a great deal more than that for professional athletes, as well as those who do physical exercise regularly just for the fun of it. In addition to reducing pain and speeding up injury recovery time, massage therapy can act as a preventative measure which improves performance and increases focus.

What is sports massage therapy?

Massage therapy has been used for sports injuries and recuperation for a long time. Originally it formed part of the preserve of therapists such as physiotherapists, doctors and osteopaths, as part of their general approach to relieving pain and providing recovery from injury. It’s only in the past couple of decades that it has become a modality in its own right.

Sports Massage Associations now exist in many countries, including the UK, US and Canada, where the national certification program run by the Canadian Sport Massage Therapists Association gives extra credence to therapists (RMT) practising the modality.

What are the benefits of sports massage?

sports massage

Sports massage works on the soft tissues in the body, and can be used either as a regular pre-exercise measure to improve performance and lessen the risk of muscle injury, or it can serve as a therapeutic treatment after physical exercise.

  1. Decreasing anxiety: Massage therapy is known to reduce anxiety levels caused by stress and pain through increasing endorphin production, the body’s own answer to pain reduction. At the same time, these endorphins help improve focus and performance by creating a sense of well-being.
  2. Getting rid of DOMS. One of the major benefits of massage therapy for athletes, involves dealing with DOMS – The Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness which causes pain and debilitation, as well as eccentric muscle behaviour, anything from 12 to 24 hours or longer after unaccustomed muscle use. DOMS can either be a result of actual muscle damage, or simply a response to unusual demands being placed on muscles that are not usually used, without actual injury being present. Studies have shown that massage cuts the effects of DOMS by about a third, reducing the swelling, pain and debilitation associated with it.
  3. Taking the “strain” out of exercise: If you have been doing a lot of heavy exercise, chances are your muscles could become inflexible and not be able to relax. This in turn can make your muscles sore, and stiff, and increase the likelihood of torn or pulled muscles. Massage therapy improves muscle flexibility by stretching the fibres in the muscles.
  4. Loosening the muscles: Muscle tension builds up during strenuous physical exercise, particularly in the soft tissues. If your muscles are tight, this can affect the blood and lymph flow, and therefore the circulation. Sports massage is designed to get the blood flowing again, improving the circulation and making breathing easier.
  5. Reducing pain and promoting muscle rebuild: Massage therapy has been shown to reduce inflammation, resulting in pain relief. It also increases production of cells’ energy-producers, the mitochondria, so assisting in the rebuilding of muscle tissue.

Who will benefit from sports massage?

The benefits of this modality are not restricted to sporting professionals, and are certainly not the sole domain of those who are injured during a game. It could be of benefit to all those who exercise on a regular basis. So whether that is through visits to the local gym, or by walking or jogging in the neighbourhood, a relaxing and muscle-loosening massage could be the cherry on the top when it comes to getting the most out of physical activity.

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