By Sabra Woodcock CMT
As an athlete and massage therapist, I know the importance of regular body work to maintain healthy muscles and help improve performance. Anyone who routinely stretches their physical limits through movement such as running, cycling, hiking, swimming, dancing, tennis and other racquet sports, strength training and aerobics can benefit from a massage. There are others who do strenuous activities on a day to day basis that is not normally classified as exercise who also could benefit from regular massage therapy. Examples are mothers with small children, gardeners, and others who use their bodies strenuously in their work. Incorporating massage in your conditioning program has many benefits. It helps you get into good shape faster, and with less stiffness and soreness. It helps you recover faster from heavy workouts, and relieves conditions which may cause injury.
When we exercise or perform strenuous activities a couple of things happen:
1. It increases vigor and promotes a general sense of well-being. If done in moderation, it can help relieve the effects of stress, and has been linked to decrease in psychological depression.
2. Produces positive physical results like increased muscular strength and endurance, more efficient heart and respiratory functioning, and greater flexibility.
3. These positive physical changes occur as the body gradually adapts to the greater demands put on it by regular exercise. The body improves its functioning to meet the challenges placed on it.
Along with these positive outcomes there are a few negative reactions that occur in the body due to physical strain:
The Tearing Down Phase – The ‘tearing down’ phase of the adaptation process often involves stiffness and soreness, especially when the amount of movement is significantly increased from what the body has been used to in the past.
Delayed muscle soreness (24-48 hours after exercise) may be caused by any of a number of different factors. Some possible causes are minor muscle or connective tissue damage, local muscle spasms that reduce blood flow, or a build up of waste products (metabolites) from energy production.
Trigger points or stress points may also cause muscle soreness and decreased flexibility. These points are specific spots in muscle and tendons which cause pain when pressed, and which may radiate pain to a larger area. They are not bruises, but are thought by some to be small areas of spasm. Trigger points may be caused by sudden trauma (like falling or being hit), or may develop over time from the stress and strain of heavy physical exertion or from repeated use of a particular muscle.
Heavily exercised muscles may also lose their capacity to relax, causing chronically tight (hypertonic) muscles, and loss of flexibility. Lack of flexibility is often linked to muscle soreness, and predisposes you to injuries, especially muscle pulls and tears. Blood flow through tight muscles is poor (ischemia), which also causes pain.
After this phase the body goes into Recovery Phase, which is important for the rebuilding phase and to obtain the full benefits of a conditioning program. Regular massage fits well into this stage. Unlike injury rehabilitation massage, maintenance massage both helps to prevent injury and treat chronic problems on a holistic level by looking at the entire body, the biomechanics, the posture and the regular workout and training of the athlete to make correct, long term changes that enhance performance. After we begin to recovery we enter the Buildup Phase in which our bodies adapt to the new demands placed on it and we become stronger and faster.
Each sport and athletic event uses muscle groups in a different way. Sports massage therapists must be familiar with each muscle, the muscle groups and how they are affected by the specific movements and stresses of each sport. They also are trained in the appropriate uses of hydrotherapy and cryotherapy.
Traditional western (e.g. Swedish) massage is currently the most common approach used for conditioning programs. It is frequently supplemented by other massage therapy approaches including deep tissue, trigger point work, and acupressure. Sports massage therapy frequently includes the use of one or more of the following techniques:
Deep Swedish Massage
Muscle-specific applications of the standard effleurage, petrissage, vibration, and tapotement techniques.
Rhythmic compression into muscles used to create a deep hypremia and softening effect in the tissues. It is generally used as a warm-up for deeper, more specific massage work.
Friction techniques applied in a general manner to create a stretching and broadening effect in large muscle groups; or on site-specific muscle and connective tissue, deep transverse friction applied to reduce adhesions and to help create strong, flexible repair during the healing process.
Trigger Point/Tender Point Massage
Combined positioning and specific finger or thumb pressure into trigger/tender points in muscle and connective tissue, to reduce the hypersensitivity, muscle spasms and referred pain patterns that characterize the point. Left untreated, such trigger/tender points often lead to restricted and painful movement of entire body regions.
Stimulation of specialized lymphatic-drainage pathways, which improves the body¹s removal of edemas and effusion.
So, schedule your monthly maintenance massage today! Don’t wait until something hurts, stay injury free and happy!