Can Massage Improve Performance on the Playing Field?

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Albertville Winter Olympics Freestyle Ski/Aerial. Photo by Caravanum via flickr. Licensed under creative commons.

Training and practice are not the only elements that can have a direct influence on how well you do in sports. As important as these are, there is something else that can raise your chances of success – massage.

The use of therapeutic massage for sports injuries is well known, but massage can also help to keep healthy muscles in top condition.

Many athletes and coaches now consider massage to be an integral part of the sport, both before and after the event.

Why Sport Massage Is Important

The condition of any athlete’s muscles is of the highest importance regardless of the sport. Massage has been proven to provide benefits that can make a real difference in performance for a number of reasons:

• Massage increases the number of mitochondria in muscle cells. Mitochondria help with muscle strength and stamina by increasing the ability of the muscle cells to absorb and use oxygen. Athletes who use massage therapy, especially deep muscle massage, will often find that their endurance improves as a result.

• Deep tissue massage by a professional masseur is also an excellent way to bring more blood to the muscles, warming them and making them more likely to function on a high level.

• Blood pressure and heart rate are all related to performance, and lower pressure and heart rate will benefit overall health – another major benefit of massage.

• Using massage before participating in a sporting event or competition not only helps to make the athlete more relaxed and confident before heading out to the playing field, but also appears to make it less likely that an injury will occur at all.

Massage before a sporting event appears to be an excellent way of providing the athlete with a boost that could make the difference during the event. However, as important as massage is prior to competition, it is equally important afterwards.

Taking Care of Aches and Pains

Anyone giving everything they have during a sporting event is well aware of the muscle fatigue and aches that will inevitably occur. Even if no actual injury has been done, tired muscles will rebound much soon if given a massage treatment. Soreness after performance generally occurs in one to three days, and if participation in another event is scheduled in this time period, it can seriously affect how well the athlete does if the muscles have not fully recovered.

Because massage does increase blood flow to the area being treated, recovery from soreness is much faster than would otherwise be the case. Part of this revolves around the role of lactic acid.

When the muscles are used, especially with some vigor, lactate is formed. Ordinary exercise doesn’t cause lactate acidosis, only the energy required for intensive sports. Usually, breathing faster when exercising delivers all the oxygen needed for the muscles.

However, during intensive sports, the lungs are unable to provide the oxygen needed and the body begins to use stored glucose for energy. The point at which the body begins to convert glucose is called the ‘anaerobic threshold’.

While a trained athlete will have a higher threshold than someone who is a casual athlete, even the most fit footballer will eventually reach his threshold and require a boost from glucose. As the glucose is converted, lactic acid is formed in the muscle cells, causing a burning sensation and soreness. It has been suggested that receiving a massage after lactate buildup can help to reduce levels of lactate in cells and reduce muscle pain.

In addition to its probable benefits for lactate, massage is simply a good idea after the event to loosen up tight muscles and resolve trigger points – those painful, tight muscle nodules that cause pain not only at the site, but at other points of the body. As massage increases blood flow, it also releases endorphins which help in relieving pain. Both pre- and after game massage is now a part of both amateur and professional sports.