Does Sports Massage Improve Performance or Recovery?
Many elite athletes consider sports massage an essential part of their training and recovery routine. Theses athletes report that a sports massage helps them train more effectively, improve performance, prevent injury, and recovery quickly. Historically, competitive and professional athletes have been some of the biggest users of sports massage. Today, a growing number of massage therapists offer therapeutic sports massage and many recreational athletes enjoy sports massage on a regular basis.
What is Therapeutic Sports Massage?
Therapeutic sports massage is a type of massage technique that focuses on treating soft tissue aches, pain and injuries that are associated with recreational activities. Massage can reduce muscle stiffness and improve relaxation by reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
While many athletes are convinced of the physical benefit of massage, research on its effectiveness is accumulating. Massage involves applying mechanical pressure to the soft tissues, and this is has been linked with improved muscle flexibility, increased range of motion in the joints, and decreased muscle stiffness.
Recently, researchers at McMaster University reported that deep massage after an intense workout actually causes muscles to enlarge and grow new mitochondria. Mitochondira, the powerhouses of our cells, are responsible for converting nutrients into useful energy.
For this study, the researchers had men to exercise to exhaustion on stationary bicycles. After the workout, the men had a Swedish-style deep-tissue massage on one leg for 10 minutes. Muscle biopsies were taken from one quadriceps muscle before and after the workout, and from both muscles immediately after a 10 minute massage of one leg, and again two and a half hours later. The deep-tissue massage increased the size and number of new mitochondria more than exercising without massage. Increasing mitochondria can improve endurance performance by increasing the rate that muscles can utilize oxygen.
The pressure of massage may also improve blood flow during the massage and increase muscle temperature. Massage reduces heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. Most people report a feeling of pure relaxation, reduced anxiety, and improved mood as a result. Athletes may indeed find an edge in these psychological benefits.
For most athletes, enjoying less muscle stiffness and improving relaxation and well-being is reason enough to enjoy regular massage. But as research continues to grow on the real physical benefits of massage, more and more athletes will be taking advantage of this ‘feel-good’ training method.