If you are dealing with a serious injury, and don’t have a diagnosis, definitely see a sports doctor. “Massage therapists do not diagnose,” says Denunzio. “It’s not part of our discipline.” And while a therapist can identify and attempt to alleviate any tightness and inflammation in the body, if a problem area doesn’t feel significantly better three days post-massage, you should likely consult a sports doctor then, as well. Once a diagnosis is given, your massage therapist can work with that information and use massage as a helpful tool in recovery.
It’s just a theory: no one knows if this is actually effective.11 However, it may explain why so many massage patients report a “gets a bit worse before it gets much better” response to quite painful treatments: motor end plates are (painfully) destroyed by strong pressures, and then that tissue is quite sensitive and a bit weak as it heals over a day or two … and then you finally feel much better after that!
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Research studies regarding perceived fatigue and recovery showed that subjects felt they were less fatigued and felt like they recovered faster after sports massage. Decreased anxiety, improved mood, better sleep, and enhanced feelings of well-being were also noted. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is reduced by sports massage, according to a wide variety of studies.
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Most people feel very relaxed. Some experience freedom from long-term aches and pains developed from tension or repetitive activity. After an initial period of feeling slowed down, people often experience increased energy, heightened awareness, and greater productivity which can last for days. Since toxins are released from your soft tissues during a massage, it is recommended you drink plenty of water following your massage. Massage therapists sometimes recommend a hot Epsom salt bath that encourages the release of toxins that may have been stirred up from the massage treatment.
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Peer-reviewed medical research has shown that the benefits of massage include pain relief, reduced trait anxiety and depression, and temporarily reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and state of anxiety. Additional testing has shown an immediate increase and expedited recovery periods for muscle performance. Theories behind what massage might do include enhanced skeletal muscle regrowth and remodeling, blocking nociception (gate control theory), activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which may stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin, preventing fibrosis or scar tissue, increasing the flow of lymph, and improving sleep.
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Each type of sports massage uses different massage techniques. Effleurage is a light stroking that can be performed with the palms or the thumbs. The pressure and speed is varied depending on the muscle and the desired result. Effleurage increases blood flow to the muscle. Petrissage is a form of two-handed kneading in which both hands pick up the muscle and compress it. This technique loosens tight bunches of muscles. Percussive strokes are blows or strikes on the muscle, often performed with the little fingers. They are used to tone the muscles. Cupping involves percussing or striking the muscles with cupped hands. It stimulates the skin and causes muscle contractions that help tone the muscles. There are variations on all these strokes, such as deep cross-fiber friction to separate muscle fibers and break down scar tissue, and jostling to relieve muscle tension. A good sports massage therapist will combine techniques to achieve the maximum desired result. Sports massage sessions generally last 30-60 minutes.
For me, the opportunity to work with individuals who have such an awareness of their bodies is exceptional. You and the athlete are a team. Locating an area of dysfunction, aiding in the relief or facilitating improvement in the area, then watching the athlete go out and perform well is uplifting. The environment is charged. What’s more, learning from health care professionals while teaching them how massage fits into overall health and wellness is just plain awesome!