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Massage: How It Benefits Athletic Performance


By Venice Sullivan, Ph.D, CNMT

Whether you are Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, Michael Flatley, Apolo Ohno, Sasha Cohen, or a weekend warrior; your body takes a beating on many levels.  Massage can help you stay in top physical shape. Athletic Performance is enhanced when the body is in prime condition.  However, the very nature of athletic performance is a detriment to top physical condition. Practice, and working to perfect your “game”, often results in repetitive motion injuries. Muscle pulls, strains and sprains, the build up of lactic acids and swelling result in muscle weakness and decreased functioning.

Michael Flatley, internationally known lead dancer of “Riverdance, Lord of the Dance”, had debilitating abdominal pain and saw the best Gastrointerologists all over the country until Venice found a trigger point in a leg muscle.  This trigger point was the result of the way he kicked.  After releasing the muscle he could once again perform without the pain.

Sports massage is only one component of many applications of massage therapy. The Sports massage therapist must be familiar with each muscle and its function, the muscle groups, how they are affected by specific movements and the stresses and requirements of specific sports. A good therapist will be able to evaluate restrictions in the normal range of motion, and know which muscle to work to restore proper movement.  Your therapist should be able to choose from a variety of techniques to increase circulation, release muscle spasms, and relieve sprains and strains.

  • Compression Massage – Rhythmic compression into muscles used to create increased blood flow and has a softening effect in the tissues. Generally used as a warm-up for deeper, more specific massage work.
  • Cross Fiber Massage – Working across the fibers of the muscle or tendon to break up scar tissue or adhesions.
  • Trigger Point Massage – Finding the nodule within the muscle fibers that is sending pain, or weakness to another area; then releasing that Trigger point with sustained pressure. (See our Bodywork Series here on Trigger Points)
  • Lymphatic Massage – A very light pressure used to move the lymphatic fluids out of an area that is swollen. (See our article here on Lymphadema)

Trigger point techniques reduce the spasms, pain and weakness that occur in both the injured and the “compensation” muscles.  Cross fiber techniques applied during all phases of healing improve the formation of strong and flexible repair tissue, which is vital in maintaining full pain-free range of motion during rehabilitation.  It helps reduce the formation of scar tissue in injured muscles.

These are but a few types of massage techniques used by a sports massage therapist.  When added to the use of ice, heat, and taping, your therapist can provide you with several performance advantages.  Regular Sports massage can:

  •             Enhance elimination of metabolic by-products of exercise.
  •             Reduce the chance in injury, through proper stretching, and event preparation.
  •             Improve range of motion and muscle flexibility, resulting in improved power and performance.
  •             Shorten recovery time between workouts.
  •             Maximize the supply of nutrients and oxygen through increased blood flow.

Sports massage therapists and athletic trainers know that keeping an athlete in top physical form requires a regular prevention and maintenance program, as well as on-site treatment before and after an athletic event.

“I would not provide sports medicine services for any major athletic event without massage therapists.”- Marjorie J. Albohm, MS ATC Chief Athletic Trainer, 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games – Therapeutic massage is increasingly being prescribed by physicians to complement traditional medical treatment for illness, injury and pain.

Therapeutic massage involves manipulation of the soft tissue structures of the body.  It soothes, calms, and aids in stress reduction; and it may improve the rate at which the body recovers from injury and illness. Working in conjunction with Duke University, researchers, at the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami School of Medicine, have measured the body’s biochemical levels after massage therapy. They found a dramatic decrease in the levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and dopamine. Research has also measured changes in levels of endorphins and serotonin after sports massage, which may reduce pain and contribute to reduced levels of delayed onset muscle soreness.

“I have found that massage therapy can provide a very effective adjunct to more traditional treatment of certain injuries of intercollegiate athletes.” – Bob Grams, MS, ATC Athletic Trainer & Assistant Professor, Seattle Pacific University

Of the staff in our office, Kalani has found that therapeutic Sports Massage has increased his strength, endurance and flexibility in boxing; Marty has shortened his recovery time after injury in wrestling; and Mandi has been able to resume dancing and rock climbing after injuring her back.  What sport would you like to be better at or get back to?  Call us to make an appointment today.

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