The Benefits of Massage for Sports
by Gemma Carter


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Massage is one of the earliest forms of physical therapy with its use dating back to more than 3000 years ago. Now in modern times with scientific discovery and technological development, improvements in this skill have occurred making sports massage much more accurate at treating injury and more beneficial to athletes as a whole.

What massage aims to achieve

In each particular type of massage the therapist and client have a particular aim in mind. With the demands of sport ever increasing and the actual intensity of athletic performance so high, sports massage is a valuable tool, integral to any training program.

Sports massage, like many other types, needs a thorough understanding of anatomy, physiology, muscular and skeletal systems. This is paramount in sports massage as dealing with top class athletes, their body is their main concern and skill is needed at all times. Regular massage will prevent the wear and tear of intensive training getting too much, letting the athlete ease sore muscles, recover from aches and pains as well as targeting muscle imbalances and specific areas of weakness.

The benefits of sports massage

When applied skillfully massage is the best way of releasing muscle tension. It can restore balance to the musculo-skeletal system and if received regularly prevents injuries which can keep athletes out of action for months, and in severe cases, years.

Massage seeks to relieve the tension which builds up in joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles.

Muscle imbalances are also treated through sports massage. These often develop and go undiagnosed until they creep up causing serious pain and often injury. These often occur through incorrect posture, poor form or from intensive activity. A skilled therapist will be able to detect this quickly before the problem becomes too severe and thus save an athlete from damaging time off through injury.

Massage techniques

There are many types of massage technique but in sports massage they are mainly divided into three categories which are effleurage, petrissage and frictions.

Almost all massage is carried out with the pressure being directed towards the heart as this aids blood flow back to the heart and with it the removal of toxins and lactic acid. It also increases venous and lymphatic flow, ensuring no pressure of blood is pushed against closed valves which can cause damage to blood vessels. The only exception to this rule is when massage is used in shorter strokes to stretch muscle fibers which can occur away or towards the heart. As the strokes are short there is no risk of built up pressure.

Effleurage

Effleurage mainly consists of a variety of stroking movement carried out using the whole palm, hand and fingers. The pressure is varied according to purpose and the stage of the massage, often light at first then slowly increasing. Effleurage is always used at the start of a massage before any other techniques.

The basic movement is a stroke with firm pressure towards the heart using the palm for a wide surface area. On the return stroke the therapist maintains contact but it is light and avoids the same path as the main stroke just made. The hands are relaxed and mould to the shape of the body.

Effleurage has many purposes that it can focus on such as:

Introducing the client to touch and the massage as a whole putting the client into a relaxed state increasing blood flow: Warming the tissues, stimulating peripheral nerves, relaxing the muscles, palpitating tissues.

Effleurage is always carried out in a rhythmical and relaxed manner, light at first and slowly building pressure for deeper penetration. It shouldn't be rushed as this phase is where abnormalities and areas of stiffness are often discovered to which the therapist can work at later. Effleurage as well as starting a massage can be a good way to complete a massage often great for relaxing the patient if the massage has been particularly painful.
 
Petrissage

Petrissage is a kneading type of massage used for deeper tissues and to release and mobilize fluids. It stretches muscle fibres and induces relaxation of deeper muscles. This is an especially firm type of massage so specific care should be taken with tight or sore areas of the body. As it works deep down mobilizing fluids in deeper muscle tissues it is important to ensure the area is appropriately warmed up and the fibers involved are stretched before kneading. This type of useful massage comprises the main body of a sports massage once other techniques are done.

Frictions

Frictions are used primarily for exploratory purposes as well as deeper movements which can at times be painful. These movements are generally aimed at specific areas of need breaking down lesions, separating muscle fibers and breaking down scar tissue. In this way they are seen to be very important for sports massages aimed at recovery after injury.

When performing this moves the sensory pad of thumb is used to grasp the skin and move it out the way so any abnormalities are discovered, which would otherwise go undetected. This allows the therapist to 'palpate' around joints and detect smaller abnormalities in tissues.

Before carrying out friction movements especially to break down lesions, scar tissue and break up muscle fibers, the client is always warned that these procedures can be quite painful and very uncomfortable to endure. However, the movements normally only take a little while and the athlete is always allowed time to recover. It is important before dreading this type of massage to remember that without proper care such lesions and scar tissue may create long term damage and possibly result is surgery.

Contra-indications for sports massage

Although sports massage is a beneficial activity, there are times when it could do more damage than good. Here are a few things to be aware of. If in doubt always make the therapist aware.

  • A body temperature of over 100 F
  • Feeling unwell
  • Acute traumas (open wounds, muscle tears, severe bruising, sprained
  • ligaments, burns and chilblains)
  • Tumours
  • Diseased blood vessels
  • Cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Haemophilia
  • Infectious skin diseases of any kind
  • If you react badly to massage in general - Diabetes (as blood sugar
  • levels can be affected)
  • If severely dehydrated as massage can dehydrate you even more

Sports massage is also a brilliant way to keep in top form, ward off injury and recover from intensive training schedules. However, take care to find a therapist that you trust, is appropriately skilled, and you feel comfortable with. If for any reason you feel the massage is incorrect or causing far too much pain (near levels of injury) then do speak up.

Article by:
Gemma Carter who is a fully trained fitness and life coach.
Visit her website at http://www.cartercoaching.co.uk or email her at: gemma@cartercoaching.co.uk

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