You Need to be Kneaded: The benefits of sportsmassage

From vol. 2 issue 6 of New England Nordic News

During this past winter, a skier came to me out of desperation. He had suffered a lumbar back strain a year ago after a nasty fall and was unable to compete. He was taking muscle relaxants, painkillers, and had received a number of physical therapy treatments. All to no avail. He experienced lots of back pain every time he tried to work out. He was about to give up and have surgery. He was not a happy camper!

During our first sportsmassage session, I found several areas of knotted muscle along his lower back and, using sportsmassage techniques, eliminated them. I sent him home with several rehabilitative stretches to perform. Three weeks later he headed off to Alaska and competed in five races in nine days, winning a bronze medal in the relay. The back pain never returned...but he did, every week for preventive sportsmassage.

There are many types of massage therapy available today. Touch therapies are fast becoming an integral part of holistic wellness as people seek more personal approaches to health care needs. One very special form of massage therapy is sportsmassage. Sportsmassage helps athletes obtain maximum performance and avoid injury by working with the body's soft tissue -muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The result is increased power, endurance and mobility.

Does more power and endurance, less soreness and muscle aches, more flexibility and increased range of motion sound good to you? Well, read on!

Sportsmassage is particularly beneficial when an athlete is in training for an event. It is fast becoming an important part of the serious athlete's conditioning program. Sportsmassage can also help during off-season conditioning.

There are four basic categories of sportsmassage:

Pre-event - a quick, rhythmic pumping that increases circulation and assists the athlete in warming up for an event;
Post-event - slower strokes focused on flushing out toxins, increasing circulation, and decreasing muscular stress resulting from constant motion and action, and relaxation;
Training - massage strokes that help avoid injuries resulting from vigorous training, as well as to increase flexibility and improve muscular coordination; Restorative - acceleration of the healing process, increasing range of motion, reducing swelling, bruising and pain, and reducing adhesions and trauma and less dependence on medications.

The body needs rest to enable it to recover from the fatigue which results from hard training, and to enable it to develop increased performance. As training increases, a point is reached where the body is no longer able to fully recover between training sessions. At this point, performance can actually begin to decrease. Some of the symptoms of decreased recovery are muscle pain, joint pain, tendon inflammation and bursa inflammation. Microtears in muscle, tendon, and ligament tissue can result in muscle spasms. To the sportsmassage therapist, these spasms feel like tiny knots in a muscle. These "knots" cause the muscle to shorten, creating pain and decreased mobility. If left unattended, muscle spasm can cause further injury. A change in sleeping patterns, irritability, and headache are also symptoms of possible over-training.

Sportsmassage sessions can improve these conditions and others. A sportsmassage will increase circulation, bringing fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to muscles, tendons and ligaments. Tendons and ligaments are more easily nourished in this manner. Rhythmic stroking will flush out toxins such as lactic acid. This often helps the athlete feel "lighter" and more flexible since muscles overloaded with toxins feel heavy and flexibility may be compromised. As muscle spasms and tender points are identified throughout the massage, they can be broken down and, once the tissue is smoothed out, the healing process can be quickened. Sportsmassage, like other forms of massage therapy, can help you relax. This quieting of the mind-body connection can help miracles happen.

From my experience, the number one cause of self-inflicted injuries is dysfunctional alignment. Even small postural changes can stress muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When the body is out of alignment, performance is compromised and injury can occur. Sportsmassage relieves the stress on joints and the muscles, tendons and ligaments that attach to joints thereby allowing the body to assume its natural, neutral alignment.

How do you find a good sportsmassage therapist? Professional sportsmassage therapists are licensed by the city or state in which they work and nationally certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage. Certified practitioners can be found on the internet at: http:///www.ncbtmb.com. When considering a sportsmassage therapist, always ask about their experience working with athletes. Massaging an athlete is not the same as massaging aunt Matilde.

Larry (Doc) Warnock is a licensed and nationally certified sportsmassage therapist (LMs.T., NCTMB) who owns the Center for Health & Athletic Performance, Inc., 20A Woburn St., Reading, MA (617-944-7431). He was a member of the 1996 Summer Olympic Sportsmassage Team in Atlanta and will establish the first sportsmassage service for the Massachusetts Bay State Games this summer. He also works with teams to develop sports conditioning programs and host a website for high school and college athletes at www.chap.com.