By Rick Halle-Podell, Licensed Massage Therapist, Founder of Massage Therapy of Oak Park
Every two years, we focus our attention on the athletes competing in the Summer and Winter Olympics. World-class athletes are largely responsible for popularizing massage therapy because it enhances performance, prevents injuries and helps restore a body to homeostasis. At the same time, more Americans realize the benefits of regular exercise. Our interest in taking responsibility for our own health leads Americans to explore the benefits of massage therapy.
Sports Massage Therapy Techniques
Sports massage therapy techniques focus on sprains, strains, adhesions, spasms and scar tissue. Any of these injuries can greatly diminish the ability of a muscle to perform or move through an optimal range of motion. Besides maintaining or possibly increasing athletic performance, massage therapy extends athletes’ careers by helping their bodies repair damaged joints, ligaments and muscles. Three of these techniques—pre-event, inter-competition and post-event massage—occur at the site of the competition. The fourth technique, maintenance massage therapy, is generally performed in an office or at a training facility.
Pre-event massage lasts about 15 minutes and emphasizes work on the muscles to be used in the competition. Massage enhances muscle performance by increasing blood circulation and reducing muscle tension while increasing athletes’ overall flexibility. Pre-event massage tends to be nonspecific, involving fast paced, light, gentle rocking, shaking out and warming muscles. Swedish massage techniques such as effleurage, compression, palmar friction, kneading and broad strokes are best for pre-event massage. Relaxation exercises increase range of motion and muscle flexibility.
Inter-competition massage occurs during time-outs in a game, between heats in elimination races or during breaks in a workout. It is short duration and very light, focusing on the muscles being used. Muscles are shaken out and gently stretched, helping the body remove waste material while maintaining muscle warmth (hyperemia).
Post-event massage occurs after athletes complete their events. Its goal is to reduce muscle swelling and tension while helping the body reduce soreness. Massage spreads muscle fibers, relaxes muscles and reduces cramping while assisting the lymphatic system to remove waste material. Therapists may apply ice to interrupt spasms or to treat sprains and cramps. Stretching with resistance is often used to end this type of massage.