What is Sports Massage Therapy?
Sports massage is manual manipulation of the muscles geared specifically toward helping people who have physically demanding lifestyles and/or hobbies. This kind of therapeutic massage considers the impact of certain activities on specific joints, muscle groups, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissue groups. The conscious focus of sports massage therapy maximizes the benefit of certain massage techniques and supports further physical exertion and activity. An initial assessment is used to create a specially informed massage therapy plan that will meet each individual athlete’s specific needs.
What are the Benefits of Sports Massage Therapy?
Why would someone choose this kind of athletic therapy when there are so many other kinds of massages available? Activities such as athletic games, official sports, and intense exercise can be hard on the body. This means choosing the right kind of massage method for an active lifestyle and body. The purpose of a deep tissue massage, for example, is to treat chronic pain and on-going tension. This might be beneficial in a very general sense, but sports massage therapy is specifically designed to support and enhance the performance, recovery, and relaxation of people (typically athletes) who are frequently and/or intensely physically active.
Benefit #1: Relaxation
Relaxation may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about sports massage, but it is an exceptionally important part of maintaining the health of an athlete. Sports massage is used as part of a specific recovery or enhancement program and can also be on-going if a body requires it. Athletes in the off-season benefit from sports massage with significantly decreased tension in the muscles that have been stressed or over-extended throughout the season. For those who play and train rigorously year-round it is a way to help the body sustain physical stress without damage, to quickly and fully recover from injury.
Massage therapy is helpful in balancing chemistry and helping to stabilize overall mood. Mood can have an impact on how effective the body is during physical activity. This is especially true for sports and activities that require quick decision making and careful observation. Relieving tension build up and improving emotional state can help prevent accidental injuries and long-lasting damage to the body. It can also help athletes gain an advantage over competitors.
Benefit #2: Recovery
Recovering from a destructive injury or physical strain is different for every athlete. The specific recovery program an athlete, coach, physical therapist, or physician decides on will depend on the athlete’s personal medical history, and what sport they play or physical activity they engage in. For example, the recovery of a baseball injury will likely be different than that of a gymnast. Consequently, their massages are going to be different, as well. Sports massage therapy can be customized based on specific needs, challenges, and if necessary, injuries. The ability to identify and treat specific physical weaknesses can have a positive effect on athletic performance.
Benefit #3: Removal of Toxins
Another part of athletic recovery that is enhanced by sports massage therapy is the release and removal of toxins from the muscles. When the muscles are engaged for long periods of time and the body is challenged, lactic acid can build up and toxins can begin to affect certain tissues. This lactic acid increase can create painful knots and uncomfortable binding throughout the body. A toxic build up can decrease athletic ability quickly and significantly. It can also affect areas of life outside of sport or activity. Lactic acid can be problematic in day-to-day movements and tasks, though it is hardly the only toxin the muscles and tissues store. Sports massage therapy helps work and loosen the muscle fibers of overworked areas to relieve lactic acid, along with all of the other painful toxins in the muscles and tissues, so that the body can remove and discard them quickly and efficiently.
Benefit #4: Better Sleep
Sports massage therapy can help facilitate and deepen sleep. Sleep is an under addressed part of physical rehabilitation that is neglected far too often. Chaotic sleep patterns and poor quality of sleep can seriously impact the body’s ability to function physically, let alone perform at its best. Any sport played or physical activity engaged in will suffer if sleep needs are not met and appropriately prioritized. Getting adequate rest is essential for general health and overall physical performance, but is especially important if the body is physically challenged. Massages that are specifically focused on chosen activities and lifestyle can help relieve discomfort and provide the support that will allow the creation and maintenance of healthy sleep habits.
Benefit #5: Performance Enhancement
Athletes not experiencing any physical damage or difficulty can participate in regularly scheduled maintenance massages to help improve athletic performance. Sports massage therapy gives support to the areas of the body worked by specific sport or exercise activities. This kind of activity conscious treatment and assessment can help heighten an athlete’s abilities and provide them with the physical support necessary to pursue and achieve their goals. Muscle and joint attention through sports massage therapy can greatly assist athletic performance.
When muscles are regularly massaged by a professionally trained sports massage therapist, an athlete decreases their risk of injury. Massage provides the support that the body needs to perform safely and confidently. If an athlete’s muscles are knotted and overly stressed it will be difficult for them to support their body when playing a competitive sport or participating in rigorous exercise. This can lead to further muscle damage, intensified discomfort, and can even cause injury. A body’s joints need the muscles around them to be fully engaged and strong enough to safely and fully support the body’s movements. It is also far easier to strain muscles that are already tight. Regular therapeutic sports massage helps the body from being dependent on bound muscles and weak joints for support when it is time to perform.
Who Could Benefit from a Sports Massage?
Athletic massages are obviously a benefit to people who play professional sports, but these athletes are not the only people who can benefit from sports massage therapy. The emphasis on athletics comes from the high rate of physical strain and damage caused by long term participation in sport activities, as well as the training that often goes with them. However, there are plenty of activities that can have an equal or greater toll on the body’s physical well-being. Let’s take a look at some of the many groups of people who could benefit from a sports massage.
Someone does not have to be an “athlete” in order to benefit from a sports massage. Anytime the body is pushed physically it is important to properly manage the impact activity is having on the body. Massage can easily be part of both the assessment and the care plan. It is particularly important to pay close attention to the body when beginning or newly intensifying activity.
The average person doesn’t need to be a widely recognized or a well-paid athlete to sustain the same injuries that professionals do. In fact, because amateurs lack the time and resources to practice and train the way that most professionals do, they are arguably at greater risk of accidental injury. Perhaps someone has joined a community sports league. Someone could have the goal of running a marathon, half marathon, or 5k run in the near future. They may prefer to participate in more isolated, solitary physical activities such as acro-yoga or balance training. These are all activities that require an elevated level of physical skill and dedication beyond the novice level, even if those skills are comfortably still amateur. All activities have an impact on the body. Sports massage therapy can help the body make sure that the impact is strictly positive.
There are those rare, talented, driven people with goals of turning their sport into a profession. They are prime candidates for regularly scheduled sports massage. Getting to the career level in a sport or athletic activity is a serious goal that will need serious planning, real dedication, and professional support. Sport-specific massage can help dedicated athletes avoid injuries and damage that might deter them from their goals or set back their career aspirations. Sports massage therapy will help to ensure that their rise to the top doesn’t ruin their ability to have a long and healthy career once they get there.
Becoming a sports massage therapist is a rewarding job, helping both professional and amateur athletes prepare for sporting activity and manage sports injury. It is a flexible career offering for people that want to have the ability to change the lives of athletes, while changing the life of the sports massage therapist in the process.