Millions of people around the world engage in physical activity, whether they perform it at a professional career level or do it as a way to improve general health, physical fitness, and overall quality of life. Without question, the benefits of exercising on a regular basis are countless – both at a physiological and psychological level – but there are also many risks and adverse effects of regular exercising, especially if it involves overdoing it or ignoring the body’s needs to rest and recover.
Runners can develop joint range of motion losses and decreased blood circulation as a result of repeated muscular contractions; bodybuilders are at risk of pulling muscles and straining joints, while tennis players may end up with chronic elbow and hip pain. To avoid pain and injury, as well as improve muscle tonus and maintain peak performance, many athletes have resorted to massage therapy which, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), has significant benefits for those who participate in exercise programs. Here are some of the most important ones:
Helps Monitor Muscle Tone
Simply put, muscle tone is the capability of your muscles to be firm even when you are not intentionally tensing them – a “toned” athlete is capable of always keeping his muscles primed and ready for action. Indirect benefits of the presence of muscle tone include good balance and posture and heat generation that keeps muscles stimulated and healthy.
Improves Soft Tissue Function
When athletes train, they often create micro-traumas and mini-injuries to their soft tissue, comprised of muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments, and joint capsules, especially when the movement is repetitive or carried out improperly. Receiving soft tissue work by way of massage therapy has been shown to improve tissue quality, speed up healing, promote healthy tissue growth, and increase extensibility (the ability of muscles to be stretched beyond their resting length when relaxed).
Decreases Post-Workout Muscle Fatigue
Muscle fatigue, the feeling of extreme tiredness that usually appears during the last part of your exercise routine, is caused by two factors: insufficient quantity of nutrients delivered to the muscles and an accumulation of waste in the muscles. Regular sports massage, along with proper pre-workout nutrition and stimulants (such as caffeine or dietary supplements), can help athletes fight muscle fatigue and stimulate them to finish their workouts strong.
Reduces Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is an adaptable process involving muscle pain, soreness, and stiffness that occur 1-2 days after exercise, seen more often in athletes who begin a new exercise program, make changes to their usual routine, or suddenly increase the intensity or length of their training session. Although the mechanism of DOMS is not yet fully understood, and there are no failproof remedies to treat it, sports massage has been shown to significantly reduce muscle soreness, swelling, and decreased muscle strength associated with this phenomenon.
Increases Range of Motion
Performing exercises through a full, rather than partial, range of motion can enable athletes to obtain major flexibility benefits, but massage therapy adds the extra benefit of breaking up knots in tissues and muscles that limit movement. A skilled chiropractor will focus on the main muscles such as quads, calves, lats, and upper back to complete your flexibility routine and increase your range of motion dramatically.
Enhance Athletic Performance
By using specific massage therapy techniques, an experienced chiropractor is able to shorten recovery time and ensure injury prevention, thereby improving athletic performance. What massage therapy does is:
- Improve the effectiveness of oxygen transfer and nutrients to muscles
- Relieve muscle spasms and reduce irritation
- Normalize the connective tissue (the cells and extracellular matter that support and connect tissues and organs of the body)
- Deactivate trigger points
- Help eliminate the accumulation of cellular waste and toxins by stimulating the circulatory and lymphatic systems
It’s important to remember that the benefits of sports massage therapy are cumulative – this means that its positive effects and many benefits will increase with repetitive sessions. In fact, for professional athletes who are always exposed to injury and pain, introducing massage therapy as part of the recovery process is essential to ensure fast recovery, injury prevention, and performance improvement, regardless of the type of physical activity performed.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.