Sports Massage is great! But then I would say that. As one of my armoury of techniques I have used in the last 11 years to help fix people it is invaluable. But what does it do? What is it good for? Why does it hurt? Here I pour all of my Sports Massage experience to give you an honest account what’s what in the world of Sport Massage.
What Is Sports Massage Good For?
Let’s start with the basics. It’s good for releasing and relaxing muscles. Not too much controversy there! However, you need to go about it in the right way. Sometimes you have to coerce them into relaxing by having a polite word with a few of their mates. Maybe some adjoining muscles, maybe some muscles somewhere completely different on the body. Maybe some nerves that run through the muscles. Understanding how to do this is the true art of Sports Massage.
Now the clever bit. Releasing muscles is nice. It feels good. But it can also help with injuries. Even injuries you would never associate as being a muscular problem. Lets look at an ankle to illustrate the point. Many people feel a limitation as they bend the ankle as shown in the photo opposite. Dorsiflexion as we call it in the trade. If you were to feel this at the front of the ankle it could in fact feel ‘boney.’ As if your ankle joint has just run out of room. In fact in can be the calf muscles pulling across the joint compressing the amount of room in the joint that is that actual cause. Having released the muscle at the back, the limitation at the front is removed. Confused?
The same principle can be applied to any joint. This is where Sports Massage can have a massive impact on injuries and conditions you originally thought to have nothing to do with muscles. Low back pain, disc issues, knee pain, shoulder injuries. You name it, if you release off the right muscle in the appropriate way you will see an immediate improvement in symptoms.
We can use muscles to have a similar impact on nerves. Take a look at the picture of the femoral nerve in our thigh below:
With massage you can release the nerve off at various points in the stomach, groin, between the quadricep and adductor muscles to affect the sensation into the knee. Now we’re using Sports Massage and our brains! Again this can be applied to any joint or structure in the body.
What Is Sports Massage Not Good For?
Not much really. Now obviously you wouldn’t massage a broken bone. But you could use Sports Massage to correct bio-mechanics, of a limping gait for example, which can ease the pain of a break. Equally you wouldn’t want to massage directly on a freshly torn muscle. As least not in the first 4 days. But what you can do is release muscles that caused the strain in the first place to take pressure off the damaged muscle to create a better environment in which to heal.
It’s the same with a muscle in spasm. You could massage a muscle in spasm all you like and it’s unlikely to relent. However, if you know which other muscles are likely to cause the spasm in the first place you can simply release those off and the muscle in spasm will start to release.
In short if you have a knowledgeable and experienced therapist with an in depth understanding of the anatomy there little a Sports Massage can’t help with.
One thing where the research has shown massage does not help is as a warm up for competition. Massage generally speaking relaxes the muscle. In most cases when we are dealing with injury this is a good thing. However, when you want your muscles to be coiled and springy and generate as much force as possible a massage which has a relaxing effect on the muscles is not the way to go!
What Is Actually Happening?
So as always I like to challenge myself in my Blogs! The honest answer is that we don’t know. Obviously there are lots of theories out there. But none of them have been proved. The only real way to do it would be a biopsy of muscle before and after – but I think the invasiveness of the procedure would out way any scientific findings!
When your muscles are really tight even an amateur can feel the tension. In normal circumstance this muscle will recover. But in some cases the muscle fibres don’t fully recover. This leaves lots of ‘knots’ or tight bits within them. These are small areas of muscles that are no longer doing their job making the overall muscle weaker, less able to perform its function and possibly leading to pain either locally or elsewhere due to the effect of the dysfunction.
Sometimes we refer to these areas as Trigger Points. One idea is that there is ‘end plate dysfunction.’ In lay terms that means the signal between the nerve ending and muscle fibres is not working properly leading to pain when pressed. We still don’t know what mechanism causes the pain, all we know is that it just does.
As the massage is continued these areas of tension and spasm give way to reveal the true cause of the problem and this can be dealt with finding the most sensitive areas and getting it to ease gradually. Improving the overall function of the muscle.
Is There Any Evidence For Sports Massage?
There’s always lots of research going onto to ‘prove’ what is happening and how it works. I’ve yet to read any compelling studies which categorically show one thing or another. The studies I have read which said nothing is happening I question the way in which they were carried out.
For example one such paper stated that if you applied massage 12 strokes this way and then 12 strokes another then there was minimal impact on muscle function. I would agree! What a rubbish massage that is! The whole point is to use skill, guile and experience to gently eke out those troublesome knots to improve muscle function.
Most of the studies being carried out simply looks at the effect on the muscle you are rubbing. In the clinic this is our last resort. Normally we are getting improvements in muscle strength in muscles by massaging muscles that aren’t anywhere near the one we’re testing.
I’m hoping to complete some research at some point in the future to try and shed some light on how these things work based on my practical findings. I have a few ideas of how to conduct the experiments but I need someone with experience of such studies and also some funding! The testing I’m thinking would be fairly rudimentary and easy to reproduce. However, I’d be really interested in going high tech and having a look to see if any differences can be seen on MRI before and after treatment. Watch this space…
Are The Affects Long Lasting?
Yes, when you’re in the hands of an experienced therapist. If we were simply to massage the muscle that is tight and / or painful I would say in 75% of cases that would make no difference at all to the tension in the muscle longer term. This is why we have combined our Sports Massage treatment with Muscle Activation. The idea being we look to change the movement pattern that causes the tight muscle. Then when we come to release the muscle off using massage because the cause of the tightness / pain has been dealt with the muscle stays lovely and spongy and nice and we all live happily ever after.
In the even longer term to completely fix the problem we also have to identify what habits and postures contributed to the problem in the first place. With a trained eye this is usually easy to find. People are always showing me the positions they have been getting in the cause these movement patterns. You just need to know what to look for. The treatment makes it easier to hold good posture and then you’re less inclined to go into the old bad posture positions.
One last point. Psychology. We normally go into these bad posture patterns when we’re being defensive or are under undue stress. It almost makes us feel more comfortable. If we can address the psychological side or movement patterns and understand how you’re feeling when you adopt certain postures then we’re truly on the way to lifetime of never feeling that problem again! There’s more information about the psychology of pain and posture in our previous post What Is Pain?
Finish Thoughts On Sports Massage
Whilst the basic scientific evidence isn’t there to support Sports Massage I think the research to date has been too limited. When use in conjunction with other techniques from the world of Physiotherapy and Muscle Activation I think Sports Massage can be uniquely effective in easing people’s pain even if they don’t think their issue is muscular.
Most of the evidence is anecdotal but what I would say is that I would not have much of a business if there wasn’t anything in it! And it certainly wouldn’t be so widely used in professional sport. Just have a read of some of our reviews and see if you think Sports Massage is effective. As with all science the people practicing are always ahead of what the scientists have proved. I’m sure there are things we believe about Sports Massage will be shown to be untrue, but I think there will be a lot more that will be shown to be right.
If you’d like to know if Sports Massage as part of our progressive treatment will help you with your condition then give us a call now on 01273 921831 and we’ll be happy to speak to you. Alternatively, if more convenient, mail us at info@BrightonSportsTherapy.co.uk. You can find more information at our dedicated Sports Massage page here: Sports Massage Brighton.