Massage for Recuperation – Health Benefits of Massage Therapy


Massage has been an important part of European training programs for many years. Just recently, North American athletes have learned to appreciate the value of massage. Numerous studies have found promising evidence to support the benefits of massage. It is undoubtable that massage has benefits for athletes. Massage can also help maintain the health of muscles.

Maintenance of Muscle 
Massage can help improve muscle recovery, which leads to more efficient training. Massage can improve the circulation of bodily fluids. With increased circulation, tissues are better able to receive nutrients and other substances that are vital for optimal body functioning. Massage also helps decrease the swelling of muscles and relaxes and stretches sore muscles.

Massage does not directly affect normal muscle strength but it is more effective than rest at optimizing recovery capabilities. Massage keeps your muscles healthy and flexible. All athletes should have massages on a regular basis. Once you have a massage, you will be amazed how good you will feel after the massage and how much more productive your training will become.

Massage Before Competition
massage-recuperation-1Pre-competition massage can be a tool for increasing or decreasing the stimulation level of nerve cells, ligaments, and joints, which helps in keeping them loose and flexible. This can help to prevent excessive micro-trauma. Massage before a competition focuses on stretching and warming up the tendons and ligaments of the legs and arms. These connective tissues do not have their own blood supply; therefore it takes longer to warm them up. Massage improves the bodies’ circulation; hence improved blood flow to the tendons and ligaments.

It is important that an athlete’s tendons and ligaments be properly warmed up before engaging in a competition. When properly warmed up, performance ability is increased and the chance of injury is decreased. Pre-competition massage also helps nervous athletes to relax and calm down before competition. It is recommended that the massage should be performed before the specific warm-up. After the massage, pre-competition stretching and warming up should be performed.

Massage After A Competition
A massage after an athletic event is very relaxing for the body and the mind. Massages performed after a workout or competition help to relieve the effects of muscular fatigue. Massage helps the body by relieving soreness and stiffness and it allows the muscles to maintain flexibility and looseness. The joints, tendons and ligaments are also helped in the same manner. Research suggests that post-workout or post-competition massage can speed up recovery time by as much as two times faster than rest alone. When given a massage, the body is able to transport nutrients and oxygen better to the muscles because of the enhanced blood flow.

The byproducts of metabolism are also carried away from the muscles more efficiently thereby decreasing recovery time. Intense exercise results in micro-trauma. Massage can help decrease the soreness associated with micro-trauma. The post workout massage should last at least 30 minutes. This allows adequate time for the body to be relieved physically and mentally.

The massage should also be given a minimum of 90 minutes after your last meal. This allows the meal to be partially digested before the massage begins. During digestion, most of the body’s blood flow is directed toward the stomach. By allowing partial digestion to have taken place, the massage is better able to direct the blood flow to the muscles.

Massage Helps Injuries
Massage has been shown to accelerate the recovery of injured muscles. Massage also allows for a greater range of motion of the injured muscle. However, massage therapy for muscle damage should not be performed immediately after the injury. This has a tendency to worsen the condition. Massage therapy should not be given any sooner than 48 hours after an injury occurs to be sure the swelling and pain have ceased before receiving the massage therapy.

massage-recuperation-2Massage therapy induces blood and lymph movement, which increases nutrition to the muscles and joints and also reduces swelling and eliminates inflammatory waste products. Deep breathing, massage or muscular movement induces lymph movement.

While athletes of every kind use sports massage, the hard research as to whether and how it works has been sparse. But a 2008 study by Ohio State University researchers found evidence that Swedish massage improved the time it took for the muscle to recover and the massaged muscles had less damage and less evidence of swelling and inflammation.

Massaged Muscles Showed Improved Recovery
The difference in strength recovery between massaged muscles was significant – 60% strength compared to 15% for the non-massaged muscles. The researchers also saw that the massaged muscles had fewer damaged muscle fibers and no sign of white blood cells present to repair muscle damage. The massaged muscles showed less sign of swelling, weighing 8% less than the non-massaged muscles.

Should You Get Sports Massage?
Many studies suggest that there is a benefit to sports massage after a hard exercise workout. Walkers training for a half marathon or marathon may benefit from sports massage after their long workouts.

Vigorous, intense, exercise overloads the skeletal-muscular apparatus and the cardiovascular system, causing an accumulation of metabolic waste products in tissues (some of which are toxic), straining the endocrine system, and even the immune system. When overloaded, the muscular system reacts by accumulating tension in muscles. This, in turn, disturbs metabolic processes in the skeletal and muscular systems. A higher muscular tonus (especially in the extremities) contributes to an increase in the peripheral vascular resistance, which is the main opposition mechanism for left-side cardiac work.

In such a case, the cardiovascular system is not only overloaded during vigorous exercise, but also is prevented from resting due to higher peripheral vascular resistance. Given the facts described above, the endocrine system cannot function in its normal physiological regime.

Additionally, over-tensed muscles produce pain, soreness, and fatigue. Understandably, if an athlete is not rehabilitated from the side-effects of vigorous exercise, we can assume that in some cases, the athlete can possibly do more harm than good to the body. The athlete can, as a matter fact, achieve less than his or her physiological potential with lack of proper rehabilitation.

How Massage Helps 
massage-recuperation-3Therapeutic massage helps the body recover from the stresses of strenuous exercise and facilitates the rebuilding phase of conditioning. The physiological benefits of massage include improved blood and lymph circulation, muscle relaxation and general relaxation. These in turn lead to removal of waste products and better cell nutrition, normalization and greater elasticity of tissues, deactivation of trigger points and faster healing of injuries. It all adds up to relief from soreness and stiffness, better flexibility and less potential for future injury.

In addition to general recovery, massage may also focus on specific muscles used in sport or fitness activity. For example, areas of greater stress for runners and dancers are in the legs, for swimmers in the upper body, for tennis players in the arms, for golfers in the low back. These areas are more likely to be tight, lose flexibility and develop trigger points.

Adequate recovery is also a major factor in avoiding the overtraining syndrome. Overtraining is characterized by irritability, apathy, altered appetite, increased frequency of injury, increased resting heart rate, and/ or insomnia. It occurs when the body is not allowed to recover adequately between bouts of heavy exercise. Therapeutic massage helps to avoid overtraining by facilitating recovery through general relaxation and other physiological effects.

Trouble Spots
You may also have your own unique trouble spots, perhaps from past injuries. A massage therapist can pay special attention to these areas, monitor them for developing problems and help keep them in good condition.

The bottom line is that before your workout, massage will stimulate your muscles and prepare them to contract fully. It will normalize your neurological responses so you will get a more complete workout. Massage will warm up your muscles, unglue the fascia and prepare you for deeper stretching. Massage will get rid of the impact of your stressful day so you can focus on your workout. A pre-workout massage will reduce your chance of injury during your workout. All professional athletes depend on massage before they play.

After your workout, massage will pump out lactic acid from your tissues resulting in less soreness and fatigue the next day. It will give your tissues the all important stretching you never take the time to do at the end of your workout. Massage will normalize the neuromuscular relationship allowing the muscles to relax reducing cramping and shortening of the contractile fibers. Massage will help remove excess fluids from the joints reducing inflammation and healing time for any damaged tissues. A post-workout massage is a very important part of training, which can really maximize the benefits of your time at the gym.

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About Author

Dr. Richard A. DiCenso

Published author, international speaker, and complementary care expert, Dr. Richard A. DiCenso has over 30 years experience in treating the chronic symptoms of Vicious Cycle disorders (VCD). With his extensive experience in "Whole Person Therapy", he is the leading authority in Biological Fluid Analysis. See my profile page for more information!

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