Recovery from exercise or physical competitions is very important for each individual. Recovery helps to prevent injury, improve performance level and will aid in physical improvements. Sports massage is a very beneficial addition to any recovery program. Research has shown that receiving a massage 2 hours after exercise produces many positive effects on the muscles (“The Effects of Roller Massage, Massage, and Ice Bath on Lactate Removal and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness”, 2019)
Sport massage will help to increase and improve blood flow, improve tissue alignment of injured muscle tissue and reduce the pain associated with delayed onset muscle soreness. As a result, an athlete’s range of motion will increase because of better and more flexible muscle tone and decrease in pain. Combining different massage techniques will increase recovery rate by removing lactate from the muscles because of increased blood flow.
In this following article, information will be provided about the benefits of a sports massage and how it can help active individuals recover faster.
What is a Sport Massage?
It has been recorded and evident that Massage is one of the earliest forms of physical therapy and was used over 3000 years ago in China, India and Greece (Schilz, M., & Leach, L., 2020). Its popularity in the Western world is mainly because of the work of Per Henrik Ling (1776 – 1839), who developed the form of massage known as Swedish massage (Shroff & Sahota, 2013). Ling developed his own unique style of massage therapy combined with exercise to help fencers and gymnasts, gaining international recognition in the process. A number of his ideas formed the foundation of modern sports massage (Crowther, F., et al., 2017).
Recently, there are many forms of massage therapy available to help and assist people in maintaining our overall health and wellbeing. Sports massage has been accepted in many parts of the world and is an ongoing form of therapy.
Sports massage involves the manipulation of soft tissue to benefit a person engaged in regular physical activity (Moon, H., 2017). Soft tissue is connective tissue that is not as hard as bone or cartilage. Soft tissue includes skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia (a form of connective tissue that lines and ensheathes the other soft tissues). Sports massage is a form of massage that assist in correcting related problems and imbalances in the soft tissue that are caused from repetitive and strenuous physical activity and trauma. It has been scientifically proven, by applying sports massage therapy, before and after exercise, may enhance performance, aid recovery and prevent injury (Gasibat et al., 2017).
Sport massage is a therapy that different techniques are used to enhance and manipulate soft tissue to help provide the perfect treatment for each individuals needs. The different techniques used are as follows:
Effleurage is a massage technique that encourages and improves relaxation, blood circulation and lymph flow. Effleurage increases circulation by increasing the temperature of muscles and preparing them for more intense massage techniques. Effleurage also stimulates the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps removes waste products out of the body which helps to maintain health.
This technique is applied with light pressure, commonly used to begin a sport massage treatment. Effleurage is performed onto many body parts using fingers and flat hands. This increases blood circulation towards the heart, using long strokes to help increase temperature of the soft tissues. This is an effective way to stimulate the lymphatic system. Effleurage is applied in an upwards direction towards lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are distributed throughout the body and connected to the lymphatic vessels. This will help to stimulate the lymphatic system and improves its function. Effleurage is also a common technique used within therapeutic massages. Effleurage can be performed at a slow pace which is used to decrease stress and reduce tension (Schilz, M., & Leach, L., 2020).
Compression is an effective massage technique used on larger area muscle groups. This technique, pressure is applied, by pushing down, onto muscles and it is then held and released. Hands are then lifted and moved to a different area and then repeated. The pressure of compressions can range from light to very deep. Compression can also be performed with a slight rocking (back and forth) movement that can encourage the parasympathetic nervous system and promote relaxation (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Deep strokes are an effective and a very beneficial massage technique. Deep strokes are performed along the direction of the muscle fibres. Deep strokes can be performed over many body parts simultaneously and increase tissue elasticity and improves relaxation..
Deep strokes can be performed with the palm of the hand and/ or the forearm. Pressure during the strokes should be deep and reaching underlying muscle structures. Deep strokes are used to lengthen and mobilize soft tissue and help improve function of the joints (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Friction is a localized manipulation performed onto soft tissues with fingers or thumbs. Friction is commonly used to treat ligaments, tendons, fascia and muscles. This massage technique can be applied transversely across soft tissue structures or in a circular movement. Frictions can be applied with deep and/or superficial pressure depending on the needs of the person being massaged. It can be used to increase local circulation and promote healing of muscle injury. Friction is used around the joints to loosen adhesions and improve movement (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
This massage technique, pressure is applied onto superficial and deep tissues. Kneading is a common massage technique used to treat very tight muscles. It will help to increase flexibility and decrease pain. Kneading can also be used to produce a therapeutic response to help reduce emotions of stress and anxiety (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Kneading is a circular technique where muscle and soft tissues are lifted, rolled and squeezed in a compressive action. The pressure is deep and it compresses the underlying muscles. Force is applied across the muscle to break down and realign collagen fibres. Breaking down collagen fibres can relieve tight, restrictive tissue, decrease pain and increase movement (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Skin rolling is used for releasing and clearing any obstructions within the soft tissues. The skin rolling technique releases muscular knots and adhesions so that skin can flow efficiently and more smoothly over the body. This technique is performed using the thumb and fingers to pull skin away from the tissue. It is then rolled forwards in a consistent motion to help separate it from being stuck on the underlying muscle. Skin rolling can be used to help break down scar tissue and can also produce a therapeutic effect and decrease stress levels (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Vibration is a massage technique in which tissues are pressed and released in an up and down movement. A vibration massage creates a vibrating and shaking motion onto the muscles that can be performed in a soothing or stimulating way. A lighter vibration technique can help stimulate the parasympathetic system and help the muscles to relax. By increasing the speed of vibration, it can be used to stimulate the circulation system and loosen soft tissues.
This technique is usually used prior to an active effect to warm up and energize the muscles (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Beating and pounding:
This technique is a heavier percussion movement. Beating and pounding is performed on larger muscle areas of the body like the thighs and/or buttocks. It is performed by striking the large muscle areas with loosely clenched fists. Beating and pounding aims to produce a deeper effect to an area compared to other percussion techniques. Beating and pounding is used to stimulate blood circulation to an area, reduce and soften areas of adipose tissue and increase muscle tone (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Hacking is a percussion movement. Hacking is a light and fast movement performed with the side of the hands. Both hands are used to strike muscle areas alternately in a rapid way. This technique is used primarily to stimulate both the nervous and the circulatory system. It is performed onto larger muscle areas and used alongside other percussion massage techniques (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Fascia is a structure of connective tissues that surround muscles, blood vessels and nerves. In healthy conditions fascia tissue is relaxed and wavy in configuration. The fascial system can provide cushioning support so that movement is increased and without pain. Myofascial release massage is a soft tissue treatment of skeletal muscle pain and immobility. This process involves applying gentle pressure onto the connective tissue and fascia. A myofascial release technique helps to detect restrictions and can facilitate the release of fascia. Injury, surgery, poor posture or inflammation of tissues can create myofascial restrictions that produce pressure and pain upon sensitive structures (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
A trigger point is also known as a muscular knot. A trigger point is an area of contracted muscle fibres that can be highly sensitive and very tight. Trigger points cause pain either into the local area or commonly transfers to other areas of the body. Pain associated to trigger points can vary from sharp and intense to a dull ache. Trigger points affect the whole function of a muscle causing spasm and weakness. Trigger points form within soft tissues due to overuse, injury, an imbalance or post surgery.
Trigger pointing is a specific technique that is used to alleviate pain through isolated pressure and release. Trigger pointing is performed with the thumbs or specific trigger pointing tools. Trigger pointing applies direct pressure onto the trigger points. The trigger pointing technique breaks the cycle of pain which has built up and kept a muscle area contracted. This relaxes the muscle fibres and increases circulation to an area (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Wringing is a form of manipulation where the tissues are lifted up and wrung from side to side. This way the soft tissues are compressed against underlying structures before they are lifted. The lifted tissues are pulled away gently using the hands and fingers. The thumb is then used to push the tissues back towards the underlying tissues. Wringing can help stimulate the skin, improve the elimination of waste products from the tissues and increase tissue elasticity (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
Cupping is a vacuum type massage technique performed with handheld cups. Placing suction cups on the body creates a partial vacuum to reduce tension on the skin and tissues underneath. By creating suction and vacuum pressure, it can soften tight muscles and tone, loosen adhesions and lift up restrictive connective tissues. The specific technique brings hydration and blood flow to the body’s tissues. It can be used to move deep inflammation to the skin surface for release and drain excess fluid and toxins by opening lymphatic pathways. Cupping can be used over any region of the body as long as there is a seal between the skin and cup, therefore cupping is more suited to larger areas of muscles (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
All these techniques can be used to provide treatment to help individuals recover and enhance performance.
How can a sports massage help with recovery?
It is important to know the different sports massage techniques and how a sports massage can help an active individual prevent injury, help with recovery and in turn enhance performance. In the following article information will be provided in how a sports massage, before and after exercise, can benefit active individuals.
Performance and physiological effect of pre-event sport massage.
Receiving a sports massage before taking part in an event/activity is known as a pre-event massage. This has been used as a strategy to decrease pre-competition anxiety, prepare the muscles for the current event and reduce risk for injury as well as enhance psychological readiness (“THE EFFECT OF SPORTS MASSAGE TOWARDS CORTISOL AND PRE-COMPETITION ANXIETY AMONG MALAYSIAN ELITE TENNIS ATHLETE”, 2021).
It is evident that a massage decreases stiffness, lengthens muscles, decreases muscle force production and motor unit activation (muscle fibers and nerve unit). However, a massage increases the parasympathetic nervous system that might have a negative effect on performance. Thus, it is very important to know what type of massage technique to use before an event (Moran, Hauth & Rabena, 2018).
Some studies have indicated that receiving a massage before taking part in a physical activity, may decrease the length of the muscle and also affect the muscle strength. This can be because, as mentioned, a massage activates the parasympathetic nervous system that is the bodies natural way to “rest and digest”. This means that there will be a decrease in in the sensory input. This leads to a decrease in muscle fibre activation, which is an important proses in muscle contraction. This may have a negative effect on overall performance (Pa, Salamuddin, Zin & Bakar, 2019).
However, pre-event massage have more positive psychological effects especially in sports where individuals are more prone to -pre-competition tension (Pa, Salamuddin, Zin & Bakar, 2019).
Although there is no scientific evidence yet that clearly demonstrates the positive effect of a pre-event massage, it can be used to increase range of motion, prevent injuries and decrease fatigue. A sports massage can increase and enhance confidence and motivation.
The best massaging techniques to use pre-event would be; Vibration, Beating and pounding and Tapotement/Hacking. The reason for these massage techniques is because in involves more vigorous and fast hand movements that will stimulate the muscles fibers to activate (Standley, R., Miller, M., & Binkley, H., 2010).
A number of studies has been conducted to prove that sports massage after performing strenuous exercise, has increased muscle recovery and performance (Sriwongtong, Goldman, Kobayashi & Gottschalk, 2020). The following explanations will provide evidence how sport massage aids recovery and treating pathology.
Effect on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. (DOMS)
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common physiological response experienced by active individuals after an exercise routine. This can also be caused when an athlete increases their exercise intensity.
DOMS has been associated with minor to severe pain after 24 to 72 hours. Athletic performance my be affected due to DOMS. This includes less range of motion and less muscle strength (Akkoc, Caliskan & Bayramoglu, 2018). Although these pain symptoms are temporary and part of a natural process, it may have a staggering effect in the sport performance during events.
Recent studies indicated that post- event sport massage therapy could be effective for alleviating DOMS. This, in turn, will improve muscle performance because a sport massage increases local blood and lymph flow and reduces pain (Angelopoulos et al., 2021).
Sport massage technique to actively help to relieve DOMS can be used in combination with cold therapy eg, Cryotherapy. The massage techniques that help to reduce inflammation and fatigued muscle are compression. Compression garments can also be used.
The effect on blood flow and blood pressure.
During a Sports blood circulation is facilitated. This is because the pressure created by the massage technique actually “presses” and moves blood through the congested areas. The release of this same pressure causes new blood to flow in and increases arteriolar pressure. The squeezing and pulling also flushes lactic acid from the muscles and improves the circulation of the lymph fluid which carries metabolic waste away from muscles and internal organs, resulting in lower blood pressure and improved body function.
As Friction increases on the skin and muscles, it will result in increased muscle temperature. Improved blood circulation combined with regular exercise can be a powerful, natural, and rejuvenating tool for a healthier lifestyle.
The benefits of improved circulation can enhance blood flow to injured areas of the body, naturally lower blood pressure and improve overall body function (Hemmings, 2000).
The effect on range of motion (ROM)
Numerous studies indicated that a sport massage has a significant effect on range of motion (Konrad, A., et al., 2020). Sport massaging techniques as effleurage, petrissage and friction (Yeun, Y. 2017) aids to smooth scar tissue and loosen deep adhesions in the tendons, ligaments and joint capsules (Van Pelt, Lawrence, Miller, Butterfield & Dupont-Versteegden, 2021).
When muscles are tight, the muscle fibers become stiff and rigid which limits a individuals range of movement. Due to excessive tone, the muscle remains in a shortened state causing imbalance and even pain in the body. Tight muscles can pull posture out of alignment and can constrict blood flow. The problem of muscles tightening up can be reduced with massage. As mentioned, a sports massage stimulates blood flow in the muscles, increasing the temperature. An increase in temperature and blood flow allows the muscles to relax. Once muscles are relaxed and lengthened, posture and movement will improve (Van Pelt, Lawrence, Miller, Butterfield & Dupont-Versteegden, 2021).
There are many other ways how a massage can improve range of motion. Massage helps to increase range of movement by;
- Increasing temperature.
When a sports massage is applied to the skin, superficial friction causes incense in temperature of an area. The increase of temperature stimulates local blood circulation to the muscles. This, in turn, causes the muscle to relax and become less tight. Thus, decrease in tone and reduce spasms. Tightness is reduced due to the relaxation of muscles. Increased temperature and decreased tightness allows muscle fibres to increase in movement (Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. J., 2020).
- Increasing muscle tissue elasticity.
Poor elasticity limits range of movement and individuals may become more prone to injury. Massage allows muscle to relax and muscle fibres to be stretched. Stretching muscle fibres increases tissue elasticity and can reduce injuries (Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. J., 2020).
- Breaking down adhesions.
Massage helps to manipulate soft tissues where adhesions are formed. Massage is applied along muscle fibres to break down and loosen adhesions. Massage promotes proper alignment of adhesion fibres so they are parallel to normal muscle fibres and not haphazardly. The better alignment of muscle fibres the increased range of movement there will be (Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. J., 2020).
- Reducing swelling post injury.
Swelling can cause pain and limit range of motion. Massage clears the path above the swollen area so the excess fluid can be drained into the lymphatic system and removed from the body faster (Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. J., 2020).
- Decreasing pain.
Massage helps decrease pain by interrupting the pain cycle with different massaging techniques. Once pain is felt in the body muscles surrounding the area tightened to protect it. If muscles tighten then movement is restricted. A sports massage increases blood circulation, loosens tight muscles and restores range of movement (Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. J., 2020).
- Assisting the body in the removal of waste products.
Waste products can build up in the body following a strenuous exercise routine or an injury. A sports massage stimulates the lymphatic system and flushes the waste products out. Once waste products are removed, the healing process speeds up and recovery is faster and range of motion will improve (Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. J., 2020).
Effect on relaxation.
Anxiety is among the main areas of interest in modern psychology and physiology among athletes. According to numerous studies, anxiety is a negative emotion that acts as a mediaor between stress stimuli and emotional (physiological) reaction patterns (Wilczyńska, D., et al., 2019).
In particular, anxiety is considered an axial stress response to emergency situations. The myofascial system is particularly sensitive to stress, and the long-term impact of stress can lead to permanent, habitual tension within the skeletal muscles and, consequently, the development of pain syndromes associated with stress. This can become very common among athletes and active people. Daily stress can have a tremendous contribution.
A study confirmed the effectiveness of progressive relaxation and myofascial relaxation due to manipulation of the tissues, contributing to reducing levels of anxiety (Wilczyńska, D., et al., 2019).
A Sport massage changes the body’s natural parasympathetic activity. And hormonal levels. This was measured by heart rate activity, blood pressure and heart rate variability. This was a clear indication that a relaxation response was present after receiving a sports massage (Wilczyńska, D., et al., 2019).
Not only does a sport massage decrease anxiety levels but also improves an individuals mood, causing relaxation. Therefore, the benefits of a sports massage can help active people enhance performance and reduce risk of injury.
Sport massage has many benefits as can be a great way to help active individuals recover faster. A Sport massage can help you “restart” your bodies natural healing and increase and enhance performance on different levels.
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