A while ago now, my quest to actually feel fit and healthy saw me book my first sports massage. At the time, my left knee was in constant agony and clicked with every step I took up a flight of stairs, (annoyingly it still clicks to this day) and to be honest, it was becoming a pain in the arse.
A year and a half later, and with many new injuries added to the collection, my relationship with sports massage has become a love-hate one at best. I’d like to say I look forward to them, and occasionally, when looking at the end goal, I do. But there and then, when I’ve got someone’s hands dug deep into my ridiculously muscles, I hate the bloody things.
Whether you’re off to the Olympics, a regular gym bunny or simply a sedentary office worker, most people are likely to have experienced discomfort or tight muscular pain at some point or another, and sports massage aims at relieving this.
Unlike normal relaxing massages, sports massages are everything but pampering. They’re not a superficial ‘chill out’ treatment you’d find at a spa. Sports – or deep tissue – massage is an intensive dose of focused, physical therapy, administered by qualified professionals, on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. If anything, they’re really quite uncomfortable. Especially at first.
Correct me if I’m wrong…? Anyone? No? Didn’t think so.
They work deep into the muscles, realigning the muscle fibres and connective tissue, and flushing away the toxins. Yeah, doesn’t sound too easy going, does it?
Sessions usually last between 30 and 45 minutes – dependent on how much care and attention your body needs, or how much of a beating your body is capable of taking – and they really do put a spring back in your step. But how do they manage to do so?
Regular sessions will increase joint mobility and flexibility, and aid in reducing the risk of injury during exercise. However, to ensure that you get the best out of what they can offer, you really need to be having them BEFORE you’re hobbling around in pain. Yes, they have the ability to ease the pain once you’ve got it. But wouldn’t you much rather not have it at all in the first place?
Looking back on the training I’ve done since really getting into working out, I never really took the time to look after my body. And then, when running my first half marathon, I again (stupidly) didn’t prioritise rest and recovery. The result? Pain in my left foot, ankle, calf and knee. Pain which is still evident nearly five months later.
Despite my scepticism about ever feeling like I could comfortably run again, after many massage sessions (and multiple weeks of rocking my bare foot back and forwards over a solid cricket-sized ball), I feel like it might actually be starting to pay off.
Personally, for my own issues, regular sports massage sessions are definitely worth it. These combined with the fact I’m actually performing the stretches and exercises I’ve been advised to do. Yeah, they can be pricey. But can you really put a price on feeling fit and mobile? It’s something I definitely took for granted until the day I realised my back always felt tight and my joints didn’t move in the same way they used to.
WHY SHOULD YOU OPT FOR A SPORTS MASSAGE?
We’ve spoken to Sports Therapist Sarah Hainsworth BSc MSST, to find out a little bit more.
1. Increased flexibility and mobility
Aggressive training can tighten and toughen muscles, preventing them from stretching correctly. The focussed ‘kneading’ of soft tissue, both longitudinally and laterally, will improve muscular mobility, release tension in and around the muscles and can even help with correcting imbalances.
“For the everyday person who is active and partakes in exercise, sports massage can be a great tool to aid recovery and maintain flexibility. It can help to maintain muscle length and flexibility by breaking down adhesions in the muscle belly that form following training. A variety of techniques are often used to do this including trigger points, muscle energy techniques and passive range of motion.”
2. Stronger flow of blood and nutrients
Over-trained muscles are tough and rock-like, which can squeeze out blood and nutrients, thus depriving the muscles of what they need. Better circulation, which comes from softer muscles, will consequently improve the supply of nutrients to tissues, improving their health and aiding in further healing and repair.
3. Removal of metabolic waste
Through increased blood flow, sports massage helps in the removal of metabolic waste products, i.e. lactates, from tissues, further assisting in recovery from physical activity.
“After exercise your muscle tissue has a build up of chemical byproducts that, if remain, can lead to muscle aches and pains. Sports massage increases the blood flow to these areas and assists in the removal of these chemicals.”
4. More relaxation and less pain
Sports massage stimulates your mechanoreceptors (read: sensory receptors which respond to touch), and as your body relaxes, endorphins are released, which lift the mood and de-stress the body. This, alongside removing the pressure built up can also help to relieve pain.
5. Easing of delayed onset muscle soreness
Also known as DOMS, this is the ache you experience a day or two after training. The pumping and squeezing action of massage strokes will encourage blood to flow throughout the body, which in turn can help prevent muscle fatigue and encourage better oxygenation.
“Sports massage is also used in those who suffer from injury. It can be used as a natural pain relieving mechanism. By stimulating mechanoreceptors in the skin you can activate the body’s natural pain relieving mechanism, known as pain gate theory, which can cause an analgesic effect in the desired area. This makes it a great tool for those who are in pain following injury or those who are suffering from DOMS due to heavy training.”
6. Boosts performance
When muscles are mobile, nourished and free from toxins and knotted tension, they lead to you being able to perform to a sustainable level of higher quality activity.
7. Prevents (or heals) injury
With all of the above benefits being reaped at once as a result of sports massage, those taking part in sport are less likely to be faced with potential injuries caused by overtraining. For those who do experience injury however, sports massage can also aid in recovery.
“Sports massage is often used in the early stage of injury to reduce swelling or oedema by promoting lymphatic drainage.”
Based in both Ipswich and Martlesham, appointments for sports massage are available with Sarah seven days a week, between 9am and 8pm (subject to availability).