Massage has been around since early civilization in many cultures and is the earliest form of physical therapy on record. It is still being used today and there has to be a good reason for that. It has had a long tradition of use in the sporting world and was drawn attention to in the 1924 Olympics in Paris when Paavo Nurmi from Finland (the ‘King of Runners’) won 5 gold medals and the word spread that massage was one of the important components of his training programme.
If you think of the last time you hurt yourself – you probably rubbed the area – touch is a natural human reaction to pain. Massage is not just stroking and kneading of the soft tissues, but actually a scientific process. The physical changes of a massage offer a drug-free, non-invasive approach on the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
Based on experience and performance, countless sport professionals hold the belief that receiving regular sports massage can offer numerous athletic benefits. The most important ones are outlined here.
What does sports massage do?
Massage increases blood circulation and therefore helps provide oxygen and nutrients that the tissues need for recovery and building of new muscle tissue. The manual pressure of massage promotes the arteriolar pressure, as well as muscle temperature from rubbing. This enhances the exchange of substances between the blood and tissue cells, which promotes metabolism. It also stimulates muscular growth by intensifying the supply of essential nutrients needed to enlarge muscular size. For that reason massage can assists the body immensely during its remodeling phase following exercise.
Massage stimulates the flow of lymph, the body’s natural defence system that rids the tissues of waste. Although an active person typically has better lymph flow, vigorous exercise can lead to additional waste. This is where massage is extremely useful, since it can considerably facilitate lymph movement and therefore remove unwanted toxins.
Massage can reduce recovery time between workouts. Muscle soreness is caused by waste products such as lactic acid and carbonic acid that accumulate in the muscle tissues after exercise. As you now already know, these can be eliminated by increasing the circulation of the lymph flow. In addition, massage assists in breaking down scar tissue and adhesions that cause stiffness and pain during recovery time which hence accelerate the return to a normal range of motion.
Massage helps prevent and supports the healing of injuries. Many overuse soft-tissue injuries will benefit from a massage treatment by preventing fibrosis (the formation of scar tissue) and by influencing the secretion of specific fluids (for example nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur) necessary for tissue repair. The increased circulation of blood and lymph flow promotes tissue regeneration, reduces inflammation and helps fight infection.
Massage improves range of motion, muscle flexibility and decreases muscle tension. Exercise can overwork or traumatize the joints and tissues surrounding them and as a result tend to tighten and become stiff. Massaging the muscles and soft tissues makes them become more supple and resilient. It provides stretching and helps loosening contracted, shortened muscles with restricted range of motion and can stimulate weak, flaccid muscles. This muscle balancing can subsequently improve posture and encourage more efficient movement.
Massage releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, which help to induce relaxation and a sensation of well-being by decreasing the level of stress hormones such as cortisol and noradrenalin. They also help undo the negative effects of stress by slowing down heart rate and respiration thus lowering elevated blood pressure. Additionally, endorphins will boost your immune system.
Massage is believed to reduce pain by blocking pain signals sent to the brain (The ‘Gate Control Theory’ of pain reduction) and to encourage relaxation by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (where the heart and breathing rate slow down and the muscles relax). It can reduce painful muscle spasm and cramping and enhance blood flow to nerves that may have been damaged from injury. It is understood that massage may reduces the level of stress hormones as well as to have a sedative effect on the nervous system. Some hormones are secreted in response to the stimulation of the muscles and their nerve cells. Due to the fact that massage stimulates the sensory and proprioceptive nerve fibres of these areas it may result in the stimulation of the hormone receptors. Furthermore, massage can have a soothing effect on the whole body and hence can be significant to any sportsperson that is very stressed and tense.
With anticipation hopefully these benefits of massage therapy have made you understand why a regular massage can be of particularly value to any triathlete. However, before making an appointment a word of advice would be to make sure that the massage therapist is a qualified practitioner and any recommendations are always desirable.
At Physio4Life in Putney we have 6 exceptional massage therapists and very convenient opening hours.