Sports Massage for Athletes

Sports massage is so often used by elite athletes and here we ask why and answer how it can help you.

It also outlines some practicalities of finding a sports masseur that will help you improve your performance, prevent injuries, speed up recovery and not waste your money. In the forthcoming weeks there will be regular articles dealing with specific injuries, their prevention and recovery.

  1. Why should you get a regular sports massage? Prevention and recovery from injury
  2. What should you expect from a massage?
  3. How often should I get a massage?
  4. A check list of things to look for when finding a masseur
  5. Self help for injuries
  6. DIY massage
  7. Final considerations and money
  8. Contact details

1) Why should you get a regular massage?

Prevention and recovery from injury

Elite athletes have benefited from massage for many years. Club athletes are now beginning to realise that they too can benefit from massage.

The factor that probably boosted Paula Radcliffe’s performance more than any other is her ability to regenerate. Her regular massages were to give extra maintenance to the whole body. Above all it’s to give Paula’s muscles and tendons the best chance to recover from the heavy workloads she puts them through

The training secrets of Paula Radcliffe article written by Orlando Pizzolato in TN40 July 2003.

There is one reason why it is vitally important that all athletes get a regular massage:

Sports Massage Improves Performance

Improvement is surely the reason why we go out in the pouring rain, wear strange clothing, sweat and toil as we rush along the street or around the track.

After a good massage you will feel lighter, more powerful, more flexible, and those little aches and pains you thought were normal will be gone. Massage reduces the likelihood of injuries, so you can keep going despite the rain!

a) Prevention

How long do you spend talking or thinking about those little niggles, aches, pains and full blown injuries?

How much time do you spend preventing those niggles becoming injuries that will stop you training?

A good masseur will be able to prevent injury in a number of different ways.

The masseur can identify if you are training correctly. If, for example, you are running on the camber of a road too much this will show itself to a masseur by the imbalance and tilt of your pelvis and associated muscles. The masseur will then be able to release the areas of tension that would otherwise develop into an injury and give you training advice.

The masseur will also be able to identify the areas we all have that are naturally tight or weak that could lead to an injury. The massage will enable tight areas to be loosened and the areas to be strengthened. This will allow the body to become balanced and therefore less likely to become injured.

One small note of caution is that there are a few situations where massage may do more harm than good. However, this should not be for the athlete to worry about as any qualified massage therapist will know when they cannot help and you should be referred to another health professional.

Some injuries are brought about by overuse of a particular muscle. Overuse injuries often result in sore, painful and inflamed muscles. Massage will reduce the likelihood of the muscle becoming overused in the first place. Massage will reduce the initial inflammation that leads to an overuse injury. Massage will straighten out fibres from the mess that is often left after training thus allowing the otherwise overused muscles fibres to work productively.

b) Recovery

The running high is legendary, but more powerful is the running low. Often the cause of this running low is injury. Not being able to train can make you feel depressed, lethargic and ultimately puts you back a stage.

The best thing about being injured is that you realise the importance of being healthy!

Massage will increase the speed at which you recover and, as stated earlier, will reduce the likelihood of any reoccurrence of the injury.

Massage is most effective at treating soft tissue injuries, such as sprains, strains and repetitive stress injury etc.

All injuries will result in scar tissue. Scar tissue results from a tear to a usually straight (think uncooked spaghetti) and effective muscle fibre. When the muscle tissue rebuilds itself it rebuilds in a mess of fibres (think cooked spaghetti). These fibres are strong but are not effective for movement and it becomes more likely that the fibres around the injured mess will become strained and more likely to become injured in the future. Massage will straighten this mess of fibres to allow the fibres to rebuild in a straight line again. The result will be that you are back to normal functioning and it is less likely to have another tear.

Of course massage has its limitations. If you break your leg a massage will not help the bone mend. However, as soon as you are out of plaster massage will reduce the scar tissue that was created when you broke your leg. So with the help of a masseur you will be running sooner.

2) What should you expect from a massage?

The hardest part of a massage is walking through the door! If it is your first massage then you are probably nervous and apprehensive as to what you are putting yourself in for.

Some things to expect:

The initial consultation should be medical in format. The masseur will ask you questions and will take notes. The questions will be to do with your past medical history, the nature of the injury and questions relating to your training and competition. Expect to have to demonstrate actions you are/are not able to perform (especially when going for a massage when injured).

Will it hurt? There are stories that a good massage is a painful massage. This is not true. A good masseur will always start of easily so you can get used to the feeling of a massage. The masseur may eventually need to work deeply into the tissues and this can cause pain. Deep massage should only cause good, almost nice and certainly manageable pain only. If at anytime you feel uncomfortable the masseur will happily alter the treatment. There are plenty of techniques that are not painful but very affective.

Expect to strip to your underwear, towels will be provided for warmth and stop any embarrassment

3) How often should I get a massage?

It depends! The more you train the more often a massage is needed.

As a rough guide I will see an athlete who trains two or three times a week a minimum of once a month.

Many top athletes will get massages two or three times a week – although in the generally course of events a weekly massage should be perfectly adequate for most runners without significant injury problems.

It is not advisable to have your first ever massage just before a competition. People respond to massage in different ways and it is best to discover how it will best work for you during a training period.

If an injury occurs the quantity of massages will increase until the injury is no longer an issue. It is impossible to state accurately exactly how long an injury will take to recover. Some athletes or some injuries will recovery or respond better to a course of massage treatment than others and so there is flexibility within a programme of recovery.

A reputable (ISRM) masseurs’ aim will be to get you back to a state of health. A good masseur will want to get back to the job of sustaining the healthy rather than dealing with the unhealthy injured athlete.

4) A check list of things to look for when finding a sports masseur

As with every profession there are poor masseurs out there. Fortunately, unlike other professions a poor massage is very unlikely to do any lasting damage to you.

To ensure that you don’t waste you money here are a few points to consider:

1) Ask if the masseur is qualified

a. The Institute of Sport and Remedial Massage (ISRM) is the governing body and has a list of qualified therapists on its website or consult the Momentum Sports Masseur Directory

b. Masseurs on the ISRM website will have a minimum of 1 year training at a reputable school. Avoid ‘masseurs’ who have attended one weekend courses

2) Go to a masseur who has been recommended by you from a trusted friend

3) If possible go to a masseur who has links to a clinic with other services and expertise available to cross refer, such as physiotherapy, osteopathy, reflexology, etc

5) Self help for injuries

If you are unfortunate enough to get injured then get it checked by a professional.

If you think it is a strain or sprain then remember: RICE then MICE.

In the 24 hours following an injury you should:

R – REST. Complete rest, if you injure your right knee, keep off it (don’t keep trying it to see if it still hurts, you’ll do further damage)

I – ICE. Ice the affected areas, until it starts to go pink then take the ice off Ice the affected areas, until it starts to go pink then take the ice off

C – COMPRESSION. Firmly bandage the area to reduce swelling

E – ELEVATION – using sling or foot stool, get the injury above the heart

After the 24 hour period you should consult with a professional who may ask you to replace the R (rest) with M, hence MICE.

M – Mobilisation/massage

6) DIY / Self massage

Masseurs are generally very pleased to offer advice on self massage and it can be a valuable tool to ward off injury until your next massage.

However there is a reason why masseurs are able to stay in business!

Unless you are a fully trained and experienced masseur you will have limited muscles accessible to you due to your own limited palpation and anatomical skills.

Self massage will have limited pressure; therefore you will not be able to target the deeper muscle fibres. You are likely to be targeting the incorrect muscles anyway.

There is only so much the internet will teach you!

7) Final Considerations and money

Unfortunately massage costs. Many masseurs will have a discount scheme. But you might like to consider this:

Every X miles you probably give your car a service. If you car starts to under perform, rattle or have a lower top speed, you are likely to pop into the local garage. The result, you spend more money on your car than you do on your self!

Can you afford not to get a massage. Without it you will train in pain, you will get more injuries, you will take longer to recover, you will always be in danger of reinjury and you may never reach your potential.

For further details, questions, or a massage contact the Momentum Sport Massage Expert or see her page on our website

Momentum Sports Sports Massage