Why Is Sports Massage Part Of Elite Athletes’ Training?

In Western culture, we usually relate the art of massage to relaxation—the image of people on ‘spa days’ or relaxing in holiday resorts lying face down on a table for a half-hour or hour-long session as a reward to themselves. But the history of massage goes back to a time when its regenerative powers were the main attraction.

Going back to about 2500 BC, ancient Chinese writings describe the use of massage in the treatment of illness and injury. Nowadays, when used professionally, massage can be used to treat everything from pain in cancer patients to musculoskeletal injuries and stress and relaxation.

It stands to reason, therefore, that elite athletes who depend on optimum physical performance to make a living would use the modality. As recently as 10 years ago, studies concluded that the relationship between athletics and effective massage techniques was at best unproven.

Now, more and more physical therapists and certified trainers are training in different massage techniques, suggesting that art is gaining popularity among elite athletes. A rundown of potential benefits shall include:

  • Increased scope of motion. Sports massage therapy allows practitioners to target specific muscle-tendon junctions, providing significant benefits within a limited timeframe. For example, one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that even a 30-second massage could improve the range of motion in hip flexors. Margaret Jones, PhD, of the American College of Sports Medicine, demonstrated a trend of decreased muscle aches in those athletes who received pre-or post-practice massages—or both.

  • Enhancement of performance. Athletes who do not experience any physical damage or difficulty may take part in regularly scheduled maintenance massages to help improve athletic performance. Sports massage therapy provides support to areas of the body engaged in specific sport or exercise activities. Such activity-conscious treatment and assessment can help increase the ability of an athlete and provide them with the physical support they need to pursue and achieve their goals. Muscle and joint attention through sports massage therapy can be of great benefit to athletic performance.

  • Recovery. The recovery from destructive injury or physical strain is different for every athlete. The specific recovery program that the athlete, coach, physical therapist or physician decides will depend on the personal medical history of the athlete and what sport they play or physical activity they engage in. For example, the recovery of a baseball injury is likely to be different from that of a gymnast. As a result, their massages will be different, too. Sports massage therapy can be tailored to specific needs, challenges and, if necessary, injuries. The ability to identify and address specific physical weaknesses can have a positive effect on athletic performance.

  • Better sleep. Sports massage therapy can help to make sleep easier and deeper. Sleep is a part of physical rehabilitation that is neglected far too often. Chaotic sleep patterns and poor sleep quality can have a serious impact on the body’s ability to function physically, let alone perform at its best. Any sport played or physical activity engaged in will suffer if sleep needs are not met and given appropriate priority. Adequate rest is essential for general health and overall physical performance, but it is particularly important if the body is physically challenged.

  • Relaxation. Relaxation may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about sports massage, but it is an exceptionally important part of maintaining an athlete’s health. Sports massage is used as part of a specific recovery or enhancement program and may also be on-going if required by the body. Out-season athletes benefit from sports massage with significantly reduced muscle tension that has been stressed or over-extended throughout the season. For those who play and train rigorously throughout the year, it’s a way to help the body with unharmed physical stress, quickly and fully recover from injury.