Athletes know about pain and performance. That’s precisely why they need to know about massage therapy. Countless athletes are already using massage therapy to heal, recover and feel revived. This gentle, noninvasive treatment offers a variety of benefits to help athletes “stay in the game” while feeling their best, overcoming past injuries and preventing future injuries.
What Is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy is considered a form of integrative medicine that relies on manual manipulation to stimulate tissue. Involving the muscles, tendons, ligaments and skin, therapeutic massage can be performed throughout the body. There are several specialized forms of massage designed to produce specific results within the body. While sports massage is commonly associated with athletes, the truth is that athletes can also benefit from forms of massage like the Swedish massage and trigger-point massage. Here’s a look at the standard techniques used in most forms of massage:
- Deep pressure.
- Long, flowing strokes.
- Deep circular motions
- Passive joint movement.
A massage can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 90 minutes. Receiving a massage is a very relaxing experience. While you may feel pressure at times when the massage therapist is working out a knot, you can expect to have one of the most comfortable and pampered experiences of your life.
Why Massage Therapy Is Good for Athletes
“Sports” massage brings a long list of physiological benefits for athletes in all genres. Yes, that means professional athletes, school athletes and “weekend” athletes. We know that massage creates responses within the body that trigger relaxation, increased circulation, mood improvement and more. The nerve stimulation that occurs during a sports massage can also trigger a reflex response. These responses are important for both post-activity recovery and everyday function because they reduce muscle tension and swelling. Here’s a look at just some of the ways that massage therapy helps to restore balance for athletes:
- Decreased muscle soreness.
- Decreased muscle tension and stiffness.
- Improved tissue function.
- Better range of motion.
- Improved heart-rate recovery.
- Restored breathing patterns.
The verdict is pretty clear that therapeutic massage can help to speed up recovery following what researchers call “fatiguing efforts.” There’s also evidence to suggest that massage therapy can help prevent injuries when done regularly. In addition, there are some very specific benefits that athletes should know about as they try to holistically heal and optimize their bodies.
Put this one under the “performance” category. Massage therapy helps to keep the muscles in optimal condition to ensure that they’ll “show up” when they’re needed. Many athletes find that using massage to boost flexibility gives them an incredible edge over competitors.
Pain reduction might be the most compelling reason to partake in sports massage. Many athletes are against the idea of resorting to pain medications, surgeries or other high-risk treatments to treat pain because they worry about long-term effects on performance, health and quality of life. Massage therapy can be an incredible resource for speeding up the healing process naturally without all of the potential complications and risks that go along with popularly prescribed options. Many people living with conditions associated with chronic pain actually see amazing results from massage therapy. As the Arthritis Foundation points out, massage is especially promising for people living with back pain, shoulder pain, knee osteoarthritis (OA), hand arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Massage therapy is linked with better sleep! While people from all walks of life use massage therapy to treat sleep issues, this perk can be especially important for athletes because lack of proper sleep can make muscle recovery impossible. What’s more, a natural sleep aid is preferable for athletes who are concerned about the impact of taking prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications that can cause fogginess and decreased performance.
This benefit isn’t being talked about enough in the world of sports medicine! Massage therapy is proven to increase blood circulation in the body. This is so important for ensuring that life-giving, restorative oxygen is being delivered to all areas of the body to create better performance, faster healing and increased energy.
When muscles are knotted and stressed, athletes put themselves at risk for injury. The truth is that joints need muscles to be strong and safely engaged as the body moves. When muscles are tight, it’s much more likely that an athlete will endure a strain during rigorous activity. Warming up isn’t necessarily enough when muscles are sore and tight from prolonged repetitive motion. The perk of using therapeutic massage to “loosen up” muscles is that specialized sports massage can actually prevent your body from becoming dependent on tight muscles and weakened joints.
There’s strong evidence that massage can be a major inflammation fighter! In addition to relieving aches and pains, eliminating inflammation can create benefits for various systems throughout the body. According to research, massage’s inflammation-busting powers rest in the way that that massage reduces the body’s cortisol production. You may know that cortisol is the “stress hormone” that creates havoc when it is coursing through the body. As massage reduces cortisol levels, it also reduces levels of inflammatory cytokines within the body.
Relaxation and Mental Health
All of the physical and performance-related benefits of massage therapy are enough for athletes to pay attention. However, massage also offers rich benefits for mood and mental health. Athletes are used to putting in long hours full of dedication and competitiveness. A massage is an opportunity to relax and unwind as endorphins are released through the power of touch! Researchers have actually observed that massage may have the power to decrease hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity, create a positive impact on immune function, enhance parasympathetic tone and modulate brain circuitry. For athletes looking to get into a winning state of mind, the incredible benefits on mood, mind and mental health generated from massage may help them to get the “eye of the tiger.”
Is Sports Massage Safe for All Athletes?
Due to its natural, noninvasive nature, massage is generally considered safe for all people. Both young and old athletes can enjoy incredible benefits from massage! Of course, it’s important to look at your personal health history when determining if massage is a good treatment for you. Massage may not be ideal if you suffer from certain skin, circulatory and digestive conditions. You should also be cautious if you have osteoporosis, high blood pressure, damaged joints or varicose veins. Pregnant women should speak with their physicians before booking massage appointments.
Making Sports Massage a Part of Your Wellness Protocol
You don’t have to be the type of athlete to sell out stadiums to enjoy the benefits of sports massage! Athletes at all levels can benefit from massage! However, it is important to select your massage provider carefully. Many people don’t see great results from massage when they visit “spas” that are focused on beauty treatments and relaxation. While a spa massage can be a nice experience, it’s not necessarily a therapeutic experience. It’s actually important for athletes to seek massage therapy from trained, certified professionals with backgrounds in integrative and sports medicine. Medical professionals specializing in sports massage are able to utilize specialized techniques and tools that promote healing. They are also capable of looking at the whole body from a medical viewpoint to get to the root of various aches, pains and mobility issues.
DE Integrative is here for all your massage needs! We’ll tailor a massage plan to help you give your muscles what they need to be strong and healthy. We are experts in integrative medicine with a passion for helping our clients to heal naturally using whole-body care. Reach out to book your appointment for massage therapy with us today!