I’ve been working on this blog for a little while, and I wanted to write about massage because it constitutes a large portion of what I do as a sports therapist.

Massage has been used as one of the earliest tools to treat musculoskeletal pain and written recorded evidence can be dated back as early as 2350BC.

Swedish massage, which most people will have experienced or heard of, was developed in 18th century by Per Hendrik Ling and is very popular today.

Musculoskeletal conditions constitute the fourth greatest burden on healthcare and massage is used in about 45% of physiotherapy cases to aid improved range of movement.

It can also help with fibromyalgia – recent nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) studies have suggested the origin of the pain may be from musculoskeletal changes and myofascial trigger points, but more studies are needed to confirm these results. 

Massage is essentially theoretical but is underpinned by science. It’s not curative but it eases our pain and increases our sense of well-being.

Why do we enjoy massage so much?

We use it for both rehabilitation and relaxation. As someone who also enjoys a regular massage, I feel so much more relaxed following a session and its possibly the only bit of self-care I allow myself.

What does it consist of?

Strokes known as effleurage; gentle circular motions used to begin a massage and start to warm the skin and muscles up and increase lymph flow. Petrissage: a deeper stroke which is a kneading of the tissue. frictions: used to increase blood flow and tissue temperature in areas of tension and also used on scar tissue and tapotement; rhythmic percussion including hacking and cupping with the hands which purports to stimulate nerve endings and increase blood flow.  That it increases blood flow in the muscles is controversial in literature, but it does increase the temperature of the muscle and skin.

Benefits of being massaged

Decreases symptoms of stress, promotes relaxation and well-being, decreases muscle tension while improving circulation.  It is also suggested that sleep can be improved following a massage and many of my clients report the same thing, myself included.

We deactivate the sympathetic nervous system (take our foot off the bodies accelerator pedal) and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (put our foot on our bodies brake pedal), which lowers heart rate and blood pressure.

Studies have also shown massage to reduce fatigue, state anxiety, and depression. It also increases removal of blood lactate (what our muscles produce as a waste product), and decreases pain perception, thought to be from activation of the pain-gate mechanism and removal of oedema (swelling), which in itself causes chemical irritation and pain.

Massage of any kind works on a psychological, neurological and physiological level.

Movement dysfunction can come from hypomobile (stiff) tissue?

Mechanical pressure (massage) is believed to increase the compliance of muscle and increase joint mobility by decreasing cell adhesion but studies that show increased flexibility are inherently flawed, however on a personal note, my ankle range of movement increased 2cm following a 5-minute calf massage.

Sports massage

Is used in competition preparation with the aim of improving performance and to reduce post exercise recovery time, symptoms, and fatigue, by improving blood flow leading to improved removal of muscle waste products and potentially able to mitigate high pH levels.  However, studies that have investigated this often has flawed methodology leaving data to support these claims to be lacking.

Does a sports massage hurt?

For my part, I hope that every client that comes into my clinic leaves feeling in less pain, and more relaxed than when they walked in. A sports massage can be both functional and relaxing. Yes, some bits are a little uncomfortable, but I try and blend that in with firm relaxing strokes, so the overall perception is one of comfort and relaxation.

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