By Janet Clark, NLMT
Massage therapy is often an overlooked component of good athletic training, yet the benefits of including this type of "passive" modality into an athlete's routine can mean the difference between reaching training goals in a more balanced way and overstressing the body. Neglecting the body and just going for the "burn" can sometimes spell disaster and lead to injuries requiring months of recovery on the sports sidelines.
After an intense period of training, a sports massage helps the body rest, recover, and return to a condition called "homeostasis." The body is always looking to return to balance. A sports massage can speed this process and allow the athlete to recover faster from the wear and tear sports places on the body and to return more quickly from injury.
Before and after
A vigorous sports massage before an athletic competition helps pump oxygenated blood to the muscles to get them warmed up for peak performance. After sports, a massage can help prevent "splinting." Muscle splinting results from muscle pain which causes the muscle to stiffen for protection, forming a rigid, natural splint. When the shortened muscles set off the splinting reflex, however, the contraction of the muscles increases until they are knotted up in a uncontrollable spasm (exactly the kind of spasm people experience with lower back pain). Muscle spasm is the body's reaction to tissue injury.
The type of oil and ointments used during a massage are also important. British athletes have long known the value of Arnica Montana, a mountain plant that is used to relieve pain from bruises, stiffness and muscle soreness. Americans are beginning to use arnica in massage sessions and topically to soothe tired muscles and aide in the repair of muscle tears and inflammation.
Remember the next time your young athlete begins to plan for a major athletic event that massage therapy is not a luxury; it can play an important role in keeping your child's body balanced and healthy.
Janet Clark is a nationally licensed massage therapist in Maine.
Created Septemeber 21, 2010