Does a sports massage REALLY boost performance?
Updated: Jun 29
In Motion with Morrison Blog
Written by Aubrey Morrison
MS Sports Medicine, CSCS, Licensed Massage Therapist #16763
If you are an athlete, how many things have been pitched to you that promise bigger strength gains, better endurance, enhanced performance, more fat burning, etc etc? I know I have over the years! Not to say that whatever the service or product being advertised is ineffective, but if you are serious about whatever your sport is (even you, weekend warriors!) it is important to understand what is relevant to you and what the science is behind the product or service. The service of a proper sports massage is absolutely helpful, and in many cases necessary, for maintaining performance by fending off injury and immobility; and can even improve performance by keeping muscles and ligaments healthy and full of oxygen and nutrients.
WHAT is a sports massage, exactly? You may see it on a menu of services at a massage practice or spa, and other than a short description of what it can do for you as an active individual, most people don’t know what a sports massage entails. Let’s clear this up! First, a sports massage should be specific to YOUR sport or activity- a runner will need a different sports massage than a power lifter! Different muscles are used in different ways in each sport. Next, a sports massage will vary depending on timing – is it directly before an even or competition, right after, or during the training leading up to the event? The techniques used for a sports massage pre-event will be more for stimulating and loosening up muscles; post-event will be for recovery and blood flow to the muscles; and treatment during seasonal training is for maintaining healthy tissues and fending off injury (even if you are just being active and not working toward an event!). I will say that most people I see fall into that last category. Lastly, a sport massage in a mixture of massage techniques and stretches. I incorporate Swedish massage, deep tissue, active and passive release, “muscles scraping” (similar to Graston), cupping, and PNF stretching. The majority of my sports massage clients are people who regularly lift, work out, run, have active jobs, etc etc. and may be feeling tight, fatigued, pain in certain places, or are on their way to becoming injured. They all want to STAY ACTIVE AND PAIN FREE – and this is where sports massage can really come in handy!
HOW does a sports massage help? Yes, it gets knots out and makes your muscles feel wonderful and supple; but it goes further than that. It helps pump blood through the body – this brings oxygen, hydration, and repairing factors to areas that are congested and damaged; for example, a chronically tight and strained quadricep needs some healthy blood to heal! Tight muscles and knots trap blood and produce toxins that need to be pushed out, and therefore good blood is “sucked” in like a sponge. This is called tissue permeability – massage helps toxins and waste leave the damaged tissue and enhances the ability of the tissue to process new and healthy blood. Tissue permeability is ESSENTIAL to recovery!! Sports massage will also stretch fascia and muscle fibers in different directions because of the strokes and techniques used, which is different than static stretching like holding a limb in a position to feel a stretch of a large muscle. This fascia and fiber stretching keeps the tissues supple and able to glide smoothly during movement. Sports massage will also break up scar tissue. Scar tissue happens when a muscle has torn (whether from an injury or the micro-tears from a good training session) and the collagen fibers that are building back the muscle have created a “tough spot” felt on the muscle. Scar tissue is essential for normal, healthy healing – but it is problematic when constant training doesn’t ever let the forming tissue fully heal; a cycle of tearing and re-tearing of a vulnerable muscle where the healing process hasn’t completed is recipe for a stubborn ball of scar tissue that causes further injury and immobility! It’s not always fun to break up scar tissue…well, it’s fun for the therapist, not necessarily the client…but it is absolutely key to treating and preventing injury if you want to stay active!
Whether you do Cross-fit, run, do triathlons, lift weights, walk, or just have pain during everyday activity – a properly given sports massage will do you wonders. Improve mobility, keep tissues healthy, prevent injury, improve old injuries (even if they were from 20 years ago!!), rid nagging pains. ALL these things will boost your performance. We know our sports massages here and can help you reach your athletic or not-so-athletic goals!
Author of Article
MS Sports Medicine, BS Biology, LMBT #16763, CSCS