Dr. Tannenbaum's Corner: The Benefits of a Sports Massage

Sports massage is a popular treatment method used by runners and athletes both before and after an event. Those lucky enough to have access to a massage therapist may even have a regular treatment as part of their general maintenance. While many of us do this, do we really know why we are doing it and what the benefits are?

Sports massage has many benefits, which include:

  • Increase in muscle flexibility as the muscle fibers are stretched and reorganized.
  • Breakdown of scar tissue and adhesions that can reduce muscle flexibility and function.
  • Increased circulation by bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients.
  • Improved recovery by flushing out the metabolic byproducts and waste.
  • Elimination of trigger points, which are painful little lumps that can refer pain all over.
  • Reduced cortisol levels (a stress hormone), resulting in relaxation.
  • Mental preparation, as a pre-event massage can really help you focus.

Techniques used include trigger-point therapy, cross friction, muscle energy, and myofascial release. The frequency of such treatment depends largely on the availability of a therapist and the costs associated with them. Many runners schedule a pre-event massage once all of the hard training is completed to loosen the muscles and prepare for the event. This tends to occur 3 – 5 days prior to the event.

A pre-event massage is performed just before an event with the aim of increasing circulation and warming and stretching the muscle fibers. It is a brisk massage that doesn't use as much pressure as is usually applied. This ensures that the muscles and tendons are not sore when starting the race. It is also a great time to focus on the task ahead, such as race plans and goals.

A post-event massage occurs just after you have completed the race. The aim of this type of massage is to help the muscles recover as quickly as possible. The techniques are not as deep as used in your maintenance massages, but longer, sweeping, rhythmical strokes help flush away metabolites and prevent blood pooling in the legs. It is advisable to wait until the muscles are no longer sore to the touch before having this type of massage. If the muscles are still extremely fatigued, tight, and sore, you won't reap the benefits as much as if they had a little time to recover from the muscle damage sustained during long events. 

How to get the most out of your massage:

  • Trial and error. Go to several different massage therapists in your area until you find the best one for you.
  • Plan your appointments in advance to work alongside your training schedule.
  • Communicate to your therapist any problems you have been having prior to the treatment as well as whether you feel any particularly tender areas.
  • Stretch after a deep-tissue massage while the muscles are warm and flexible.
  • Drink plenty of water to help flush out toxins released during the treatment.

If used properly, sports massage can be a great tool for any athlete to enhance their performance and recovery. Following these simple guidelines will ensure you get the most from your treatments.