Are you a member of a local sports team? Are you currently in training for an upcoming event or competition? Or are you someone who simply enjoys spending time outside running, biking, or doing other activities?
If you answered yes to any of the above, no doubt you experience muscle soreness from time to time. You’re likely also interested in injury prevention and the fastest path to athletic recovery after a workout or competition.
Did you know that massage therapy can meet all of those needs (and so much more)? Sports massage in particular can help active people like you to feel and perform their best.
But exactly what is sports massage? What makes it different than other types of massage? Most importantly, what benefits of sports massage can you expect after each session?
We’ll discuss these questions in detail below, so keep reading to learn what sports massage can do for you and your game.
What Is Sports Massage?
If you think massage therapy is only about candlelight and soft music, think again. Many different types of massage — including sports massage — extend far beyond a relaxing spa experience.
Sports massage is therapeutic, with the goals of reducing muscles tension and ensuring injury prevention. Along with your regular routine of exercise, stretching, and other forms of self-care, it’s one of the best things you can do for your body!
When you receive a sports massage, your therapist will use a variety of different techniques based on what’s happening with your body. This might include:
- deep kneading
- long gliding strokes
- tapping, percussion, or tapotement
- trigger point therapy
- cross-fiber friction
- myofascial release
- active stretching
- passive stretching
Before your session begins, you’ll have the chance to speak with your therapist about any recent injuries, surgeries, or problem areas. This will allow your therapist to tailor the massage session to your body’s specific needs.
Sports Massage vs Other Types of Massage Therapy
If you’re thinking that the list of techniques above sounds similar to other types of massage, you’re correct. Sports massage borrows techniques from many different modalities to address different problems.
For example, long strokes and passive stretching are common during a traditional Swedish massage. Kneading, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy often accompany a deep tissue massage.
So then, what makes sports massage different? While most general spa-style massages include the whole body, sports massage tends to focus on the areas that need the most attention.
For example, runners and cyclists often need extra work on their quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hips. Climbers and weightlifters may need more attention on their neck, shoulders, arms, and upper back. And any athlete recovering from an injury can benefit from sports massage in conjunction with physical therapy.
The Benefits of Sports Massage
Now that you’re more familiar with the concept of sports massage, let’s discuss some specific ways it can help you. Here are some compelling reasons to choose sports massage from any spa or wellness menu.
1. Reduced Muscle Soreness
There’s nothing like the thrill of a great workout or a fierce competition. There’s also nothing like the agony you feel the next day when you wake up the day after a big sporting event.
You can thank Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) for those familiar aches and pains. When you exert your muscles during sports, there’s a natural recovery period over the next 24-48 hours. This is when lactic acid builds up and peaks in the muscles, creating that pain and tension during the recovery process.
Although DOMS is a normal result after prolonged exertion, it can make you miserable while you’re recovering. It can also impede your ability to get back out there and keep doing what you love.
One of the key benefits of sports massage is it can significantly reduce muscle soreness and discomfort during this recovery phase. This happens because massage pushes out lactic acid and other waste products from your muscles into your lymphatic system. Your body then naturally eliminates these by-products, helping you to recover faster.
In one study, participants received a brief 10-minute sports massage a few hours after a hard workout. Researchers concluded that they experienced 30% less soreness and discomfort than those who didn’t get a massage.
Faster muscle recovery with less pain and soreness — that’s a win-win for every athlete!
2. Improved Flexibility & ROM
Speaking of acronyms, here’s another one you’re probably familiar with: Range of Motion, or ROM.
There’s an array of factors that can affect your flexibility and joint mobility. Scar tissue, old injuries, and other adhesions all impact how flexible (or inflexible) certain parts of your body become. And when your joints don’t function as well as they should, this leaves you wide open to injury.
In some cases, overtraining can also create rigid, inflexible muscles. No doubt you have a good program of stretching in place before and after each workout, but it’s not always enough to loosen overworked muscles.
Once again, sports massage comes to the rescue. One of its main goals is to relax and lengthen tight muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Through active and passive stretching techniques, you can also improve ROM in your knees, shoulders, hips, and other overused joints.
Just like adding oil helps to lubricate your car’s engine, sports massage helps to lubricate your body’s joints and soft tissues. By keeping those fluids moving, you’re much less likely to suffer an injury while you play.
You can get a sports massage a few hours before the event to loosen everything up. Getting a massage a few hours after you play will help with muscle recovery, as we discussed earlier. If you can do both, even better — your body will thank you for it!
3. Relief From Pain & Inflammation
Like other types of massage therapy, sports massage improves blood flow throughout the body. What does this mean for you and your athletic recovery efforts?
For starters, it increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients circulating through your system. It helps to counteract the pain and soreness from oxygen deprivation when your muscles are overworked. This helps your muscles and other soft tissues to repair themselves faster.
In fact, the reason you feel sore after a hard workout is usually due to microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Although this is a natural process, it can leave you with those all-too-familiar aches and pains while you recover. Research shows that massage after vigorous activity reduces inflammation and promotes new muscle growth.
Meanwhile, as we touched on earlier, this enhanced circulation also moves waste products like carbonic and lactic acid out of your body. This is one reason you’ll hear your therapist tell you to drink a lot of water after your massage session.
4. Less Stress & Anxiety
Until now, we’ve focused on the physical benefits of sports massage. As an athlete, though, you know that what’s happening in your mind is just as important as how your body feels.
Can sports massage help with your mental and emotional health? Absolutely!
One of the main reasons people seek massage therapy is to relax and destress, and sports massage is no different. Massage triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine, your body’s natural “feel good” hormones. Not only are these nature’s pain relievers, but they also improve your mood and promote feelings of wellbeing.
At the same time, massage also reduces your cortisol levels by an average of 30%. Cortisol is your body’s “stress” hormone, and too much of it can wreak havoc on your emotional health (not to mention your game). Reducing cortisol helps to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
As a result, you’ll feel calmer, happier, and more clear-headed after your massage session.
Another related benefit you’ll enjoy from this relaxed state is lower blood pressure. In turn, you can expect to experience better sleep and wake up feeling rested and refreshed. Better sleep helps your body to recover faster, which keeps this amazing cycle of wellness going strong.
Prioritize Athletic Recovery & Injury Prevention
Whether you’re a serious athlete, a weekend warrior, or a player for a local high school or college team, you need to take care of your body.
Injury prevention doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes a lot of time and effort to keep your muscles, joints, and soft tissues healthy and supple.
With massage therapy, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Far from just a “relaxing” experience, massage offers real physical and mental benefits to athletes of all ages and abilities.
Would you like to experience the benefits of sports massage for yourself? Do you have more questions about massage therapy and how it can help you feel and perform your best?
Use our online contact form or give us a call at 859-866-6666 to learn more. We look forward to hearing from you!