Benefits of Sports Massage and Why Athletes Prefer it During Olympics

 

Vigorous physical activities occurring during sports can increase muscle tension in the body tissues. Overexertion of muscles can also lead to severe muscle pain, tissue injuries and lesions that can directly affect the performance of an athlete.  Post exercise stretching, light exercise, or topical pain killer creams are some of the strategies proposed to alleviate muscle pain. However, none of these treatments can completely reduce the pain and soreness caused due to excessive physical activity.

Did you know? Nearly 30 to 60 percent of marathon runners and athletes report pain due to severe muscular cramps

Massage has been a choice of therapy for treatment of various illnesses and injuries for thousands of years. Physical therapists who specialize in sports medicine believe that sports massage plays an important part in the life of any athlete whether they are injured or not. Massage therapy can improve performance, reduce pain, prevent injury, encourage focus, and shorten recovery time.

Some important physical and psychological benefits of massage therapy in athletes are described further.

 

Physical Health Benefits   

1. Improves Flexibility

Highly stressed muscle loses its capacity to relax. This makes the muscles very stiff which leads to reduced flexibility. A stiff or a less flexible muscle is more prone to injuries such as muscle pulls and tears. Furthermore, a stiff muscle restricts blood flow, which often causes pain. A regular routine of massage therapy is very effective in combating these effects of heavy exercised muscle. In addition since massage relaxes muscle, it could also help to enhance joint flexibility.

2. Reduces Pain

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the most commonly reported problem by the athletes. It refers to the muscle soreness and pain that develops few hours after a vigorous activity or unfamiliar exercise move. It mainly results from stressing the muscle tissue beyond what it is accustomed to. Experts believe that such soreness develops as a result of microscopic damage to muscle fibers involved in the action.  DOMS actually occurs as a result of the repair process that develops in response to microscopic muscle damage. However, the pain and soreness can be severe enough to interfere with athlete’s performance. Massage therapy is popular and possibly effective therapy for reducing such pain and soreness. The mechanical pressure applied during massage decreases neutrophil margination (the process that causes inflammation and pain), thereby reducing DOMS.

3. Reduces Muscle Strain

A muscle strain is a common type of sports injury. It refers to the damage caused to the muscle fiber or the other fibers that attach the muscle to the bone. If corrective measures are not taken, it can significantly affect the performance. Experts suggest that sports massage can prove to be a preventive strategy to avoid muscle strain.

4.Prevents Muscle Cramps

Exercise-induced muscle cramps are common and can occur during any type of sports. Muscle cramps are thought to be caused due to imbalance of electrolyte caused due to profuse sweating during vigorous activities. The depletion of important electrolyte causes sensitization of nerves. The muscle cramps can be severe enough to take an athlete out of competition. Massage can relieve muscle tension, stretch tight ligaments and reduce stiffness in muscles.

5. Promotes Better sleep

It is very important for the athletes to get adequate rest and sleep to have good physical and mental health. A satisfactory sleep at night helps the brain to prepare itself and get ready to function well the next day. Massage therapy can help the athletes to have relaxed body and mind to get a good night’s sleep. This can also positively affect their performance.

 

Psychological Benefits  

1. Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Massage therapy is known to reduce levels of “cortisol” the stress hormone, and increase levels of dopamine which actually regulates our emotion. Many athletes have a stressful schedule that allows very little time for relaxation. Massage therapy can help the sports person to get the much needed mental relaxation.

2. Improves Focus

Many sports activities such as golf or gymnastics demand a large degree of attention and focus on goal. Massage therapy is known to produce calming effect and improve mood that can help to have better concentration.

3. Recovery from competition stress

The athletes have to get into competitive mood during each performance. Although, it’s a healthy competition with fellow participants, it can create a stressful situation. A relaxing massage after the performance can help the participants to recover from stress of competition

 

When Should An Athlete Take a Massage?

Experts suggest that massage therapies taken sporadically may not show similar benefits as those taken regularly. For maximum benefits sport massage should be applied at once every week or once in every two weeks.

Pre-event Massage

It is recommended to schedule a pre-event massage three to five days before, so as to give the body enough time to recover and be fully rested. The aim of a pre-event massage is to warm the muscles and improve the blood flow.

Post-event Massage

Post-event massage should be scheduled after 48 to 27 hours of an event. This massage is usually done with the aim of improving circulation, lymph drainage and reducing muscle tension.

 

The Insights from Research

  • A single session of Thai Massage can provide improvements in physical fitness and flexibility in athletes such as soccer players
  • Massage therapy appears to be clinically beneficial in reducing inflammation and repairing the damage caused to muscle
  • Studies suggest that massage rendered 2 hours after muscle injury effectively decreases muscle soreness
  • Massage therapy can facilitate recovery from repetitive muscular contractions when treatment is administered within two hours of exercise

The Insights from Research

  • A single session of Thai Massage can provide improvements in physical fitness and flexibility in athletes such as soccer players
  • Massage therapy appears to be clinically beneficial in reducing inflammation and repairing the damage caused to muscle
  • Studies suggest that massage rendered 2 hours after muscle injury effectively decreases muscle soreness
  • Massage therapy can facilitate recovery from repetitive muscular contractions when treatment is administered within two hours of exercise