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  • Writer's pictureAlexa

The Sport in Sports Massage

Sports Massage as a term was coined 15-20 years ago to try to define a way of treating soft tissue with massage-like techniques to treat sports injuries as well as preparing people for sport and helping them recover quicker afterwards. Since then the qualification has been more defined, better taught and covers a wider range of assessments, treatments and injuries that it can help with. Sports Massage isn’t just for sports, and is now starting to be re-name Soft Tissue Therapy; as most therapists (including myself) find ourselves treating people with niggles, pain and injuries that aren’t sports related.

The core of what we do is still really relevant to those who do sport though! When we push our bodies in training we are asking them to adapt and re-build after every session essentially by damaging them a little in training. If you don’t damage your tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones etc) enough the body won’t re-build them stronger, if you damage them too much, even a little too much but more often, you’ll end up injured. So the key is to manage your training load to be “just right” (quite an art in itself!) and also to help support your body to do it’s best possible job at recovering.

I’ve written a post about helping recovery already, so this post will focus on the part Sports Massage play in both recovery and also helping to get to the bottom of any injuries or niggles in your sport.

One of the more underrated aspects of Sports Massage is that it gives you the chance to check in with how your body is doing. As you are treated you’ll be able to feel areas of pain or tightness that you weren’t aware of before; this acts like an early warning system for areas that may have turned into niggles in future allowing you to proactively do something about them. You’ll also start to get a sense of which muscles are consistently doing more work and are therefore tighter or more painful to treat; and whether they should be doing that much work. For example in running it’s fairly common for the quads (the muscles on the front of the thighs) and the calves to be working quite hard and this might link to things like posture and running form. Again if you have an awareness of this early you reduce the risk of any injuries occurring.

So how does sports massage help recovery? Firstly it mechanically flushes out blood and lymph containing the by products of the muscles burning fuel out of the muscles allowing fresh, oxygenated blood to flow in which helps the cells repair faster. The movement and pressure of the massage also encourages the muscle and tendon fibres to glide over each other to maintain good muscle tone and function, to avoid them stiffening up and sticking together. You may have particular muscles that have been working really hard, or areas within specific muscles, that need a little more encouragement to switch off. By getting them to relax they can start recovering and repairing for your next training session, and they will also be less painful!

When muscles do work they shorten. Muscles are made up of thousands of filaments that are linked together and slide towards each other to shorten the muscle when they get a signal from a nerve. When the muscle has been working really hard (and for many other possible reasons) these filaments don’t always go back to their original distance apart, so the muscle starts gradually getting shorter. This is why post training stretches can help for key muscles groups. Massage helps get these filaments back to their original distance apart, allowing for better functioning of both the muscles and the ligaments, tendons and joints nearby. Sports Massage will work into deeper muscles and use a variety of techniques to restore muscle length, in the muscles that need it.

Diagram of how muscle filaments work

Why is that a good thing to do? There are many reasons! We often have patterns of some muscles being short and tight and their “opposites” being longer and weaker as a result. Two examples are the muscles at the front of the shoulder being short and tight, pulling the shoulders forwards. So the muscles at the back of the shoulder become long, weak and often painful. People who spend a lot of time sitting the muscles at the front of the hips get short and tight, and the glute (the muscles in the bum) get long and weak as a result which has a knock on impact on posture, back pain and sporting performance as the glutes should very strong powerful muscles. Often the first step to redressing these out of balance muscles is lengthening the short and tight muscles, and then you can later start to strengthen the long and weak ones.

This pattern or short and tight vs long and weak has knock on consequences on range of motion of our joints. So in the shoulder example you can imagine that with the shoulder pulled forwards all the time you won’t be able to reach behind you as easily, or if you try to do big arm circles your shoulders will complain/click/clunk. In the example of the hips the distance your leg can extend backwards or can rotate to allow you to turn can be quite restricted leading to the lower back having to move more than it’s happy to. Or perhaps the leg just won’t go as far backwards as it could leading to a less power when you run, changes to your running gait and other muscles (often the hamstrings and calves) having to do more than they were designed to do and ending up injured.

Sports Massage is also great pre and post event or race;

  • Pre event to either camp down tight muscles or tense humans, get the muscles gliding efficiently and getting the muscle activation firing so they are ready to perform

  • Post event to stretch out key muscles and kick start the recovery process

So Sports Massage can;

  • help speed up recovery

  • help prepare the body for events or training

  • helps you to build an awareness of your body and how it works and move

  • improving muscle performance

  • supporting good joint function and posture as a baseline for good training and performance

What’s not to like?!

I offer Sports Massage for sporty as well as non-sporty types, just email or phone to book!

Picture of my massage treatment room

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