By Candace Moody and Thomas Moody, LMT
Massage therapy has been around for at least five thousand years. There are references in ancient documents of the Chinese imperial court identifying massage as a healing art; in the Bible, there are verses about anointing the human body with oil may that well have referred to some form of healing massage. The Greek physician Hippocrates advised massage routines for his patients. In various forms, therapeutic massage could be found in just about every corner of the ancient world.
Modern athletes are rediscovering the benefits of sports massage. Elite athletes in all sports find that an sports massage therapist can help them train longer, recover more quickly after workouts and injuries, and perform better during competition. Amateur athletes can reap the same benefits, but without an expert training staff to guide you, it can be a challenge to find and ask for what you need.
Here are some things you should know about sports massage:
Not all massage is designed to improve athletic performance. All massage feels good and has some therapeutic benefit. But the soothing massage you receive at a spa is not intended to treat muscles that have been performing at capacity during a workout or competition. Not all massage therapists have the extensive anatomical and kinesthetic training needed to understand which muscle groups have been used or how to help them recover. Therapists who specialize in sports massage have studied athletes and performance and know what it takes to improve function and range of motion.
Massage should be a regular therapy, not a one-time event. Training for competition requires regular and thoughtfully planned workouts. Likewise, massage therapy is more effective when it comes at regular intervals. Massage therapy offers cumulative benefits over time; it’s rare that one session will solve a problem. It also takes time for the body to become accustomed to the deep work required to treat injuries. Massage therapy helps the muscles, fascia and nerves work together to repair, flush or return the muscle to its normal state. Regular massage helps muscles remember what to do to recover and helps the effects last longer.
Effective sports massage uses a variety of modalities. A therapist who only knows a couple of styles of massage may not be able to influence all the systems that your body uses during and after your workout. For example, Swedish massage, the most common massage technique, works on your parasympathetic system. That’s the system that controls “rest and digest” functions, and Swedish is very effective for recovery after competition. But it’s not at all effective before; in fact, a Swedish massage before competing will impair your performance. Ask your therapist how many modalities he has been trained in – the more versatile he is, the more effective he’ll be for an athlete.
If you’re serious about improving your athletic performance, you probably have a personal trainer or coach working with you. Together, you work on a plan for improving speed, endurance, or performance. An expert sports massage therapist can maximize your workouts and shorten your recovery time. If you haven’t incorporated regular sports massage into your training plan, you might be leaving some performance on the table, so to speak.
Thomas Moody, LMT is a licensed massage therapist in practice at Definition Fitness in San Marco. He is certified in Neuromuscular Massage. Thom is part of the sports medicine team of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and Jacksonville University, and has worked with collegiate and Olympic athletes in many sports. He is also certified as a Level One USAA Track and Field Coach. Candace Moody is a writer based in Jacksonville.