Massage: Not Just A Luxury
Massage therapy is often perceived to be a luxury. When you hear the word “massage”, thoughts of spa dates with your best friend, complete with relaxing music and a mani-pedi, likely come to mind. But what if I told you that the benefits of a massage go far beyond a relaxing day at the spa with your gal pals? Before we get into why massage therapy should be a part of your training routine, let’s first discuss what exactly we are doing to our bodies when we train.
During heavy training whether you are lifting weights, running, or cycling, you are indeed putting your body under a lot of stress. Although it is a healthy stress, it is still a stress nonetheless. During training, microscopic tears occur in the muscle tissue and fascia and when this occurs, we normally feel muscle soreness and pain a day or so after the training session. This is commonly known as delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS). Heavy training can also result in muscle tension and the development of adhesions in the muscle and connective tissue. When muscle tension and adhesions develop, the athlete may experience a decreased range of motion during certain movements. When there is a decrease in ranges of motion the athlete is then at a higher risk for injuries such as muscle strains, sprained ligature, and muscle and tendon tears.
Sometimes when an athlete is suffering from muscle tension or adhesions, it goes unnoticed. Other times the athlete follows the mentality, “no pain no gain” and continues to work through the pain. The athlete may have experienced pain after a training session and assumed it was delayed onset of muscle soreness, or that they must have trained really hard that day. If the athlete continues to train with this restrictive range of motion, they can develop muscular imbalances. For example: Say Joe lifts weights five days a week after spending eight hours at his desk job. Each week he is focused on setting a new personal record on bench press, however, he has neglected other areas of his body in the mean time. Because of this, his back muscles are not as strong as his pectoral muscles are. We also need to consider that Joe spends eight hours daily at a computer therefore his pectoral muscles are shortened because in those eight hours his arms are set out in front of him while he types away on his computer, without giving the pectoral and front deltoid muscles a chance to elongate or stretch. If Joe continues training through his range of motion restrictions and muscular imbalances, he could become hunchbacked over an extended period of time.
First understand that there are many different types of massage therapy. Relaxation massage is usually found in a spa-like environment and consists of gentle techniques. The goal of a relaxation massage is simply to have the client relaxed and nothing more. Therapeutic massage on the other hand is performed by a registered massage therapist (RMT). You can typically find registered massage therapists in a spa, massage therapy clinic, chiropractor’s office, naturopath office, or a physiotherapy office. Many gym facilities also have registered massage therapists on staff as well.
Therapeutic massage is a form of massage therapy that focuses on specific muscular dysfunctions such as sciatic pain, carpal tunnel, or frozen shoulder. If you are experiencing any type of pain, tightness, or restricted ranges of motion, therapeutic massage is for you. The massage may feel uncomfortable depending on the level of pain or tightness you are experiencing. The therapist will take you through ranges of motion to determine which muscles are causing the restrictions in their client’s range of motion and will apply specific techniques to the affected area. Although it may not be the most relaxing experience, the benefits far outweigh an hour of feeling sore or uncomfortable.
So now that we know the difference between a relaxation massage, and a therapeutic massage we can get into exactly how a therapeutic massage will fit into your training routine. As I mentioned before, heavy training causes microscopic tears in the muscle tissue which can result in muscle soreness and tightness. When these microscopic tears occur, the muscle tissue repairs itself through the nutrients that are found in the bloodstream. A therapeutic massage increases blood circulation, bringing nutrients to the affected muscle tissue while simultaneously flushing out the toxins, lactic acid, and waste by product left in the muscle tissue after a heavy training session. Muscles take anywhere from seven to fourteen days to fully recover after a heavy training session, and chances are you cannot take one to two weeks off after every training session otherwise you would never get anywhere. However, adding regular massages to your training program can reduce and shorten the recovery time of the muscle groups, helping you reach your optimal performance.
Most of my clients wait until they are in pain or having difficulty performing basic tasks such as putting on their shoes before they book their next massage. Although it is best to use massage therapy as preventative medicine, therapeutic massage therapy can also breaks up scar tissue and adhesions that have already formed overtime. Breaking up scar tissue and adhesions, increases the range of motion and flexibility of the affected area lowering the chance of injury or re-injury.
When the body or mind is under stress, the immune system does not function properly and this can prolong the body’s ability to repair muscle tissues. Massage therapy has the ability to lower cortisol levels (stress hormone) and increase serotonin and dopamine levels (happy feel-good hormones), thus increasing muscle recovery time. Massage therapy also relieves pain and promotes sleep. The quality of sleep that an athlete gets each night is extremely important during the muscle recovery process. While we are sleeping, a process called protein synthesis occurs. At the same time there is a release of the human growth hormone (HGH). The human growth hormone plays a very important in muscle recovery because it synthesizes protein tissues that are used to repair and build new muscle tissue. The levels of the human growth hormone in an athlete are highest during their sleep cycle.
If you are considering adding massage therapy into your regular training routine, timing should be taken into consideration. If you trained your shoulders at the gym on Monday, if would not be beneficial to have a massage on your shoulders within two days of that training session. If you chose to do so, this could prolong your muscle recovery time because your muscle tissues are still in an acute state of stress. This does not mean you shouldn’t have a massage at all, so if you already have a massage session booked in advance, have your therapist focus on your back, arms, or legs instead. If you are preparing for a marathon or bodybuilding competition, many athletes will book a therapeutic massage one day prior to the event, but his is also not recommended as it could hinder the athlete’s performance because therapeutic massage can stimulate a stress response in the muscle tissue, resulting in muscle tenderness. If you are looking to relieve stress or anxiety that you may be experiencing prior to an event, it is recommended that you opt for a relaxation massage because it is less intense on the muscle tissue and will relieve you of the stress you may be under prior to your event.
Massage therapy can aid an active individual in so many different aspects, whether you are a bodybuilder, runner, or cross fitter. You are an athlete. You eat healthfully, you train hard. If you take care of your body it will take care of you.