The last several decades have witnessed a dramatic rise in the level of athletic performance. Advances in training and conditioning techniques are allowing the human body to become a finely tuned machine. Just when we think we’ve pushed limits of speed, endurance, and strength, yet another impossible world record is broken.

The leap in performance can be attributed to any number of key factors:

improved equipment enhanced understanding of how nutrition fuels the body enlightenment about psychological aspects of competition scientific advances in the study of body structure and function

Like a finely tuned sports car, keeping an athlete in top physical form requires regularly scheduled, proactive maintenance, as well as on-site treatment before and after the rigors of an athletic event. Therefore, sports massage therapy is classified into two categories: maintenance and event.

Maintenance:

An effective maintenance program depends on the massage therapist’s understanding of anatomy and kinesiology, combined with an expert knowledge of which muscles are used in a given sport and which are likely candidates for trouble. Zeroing in on particular muscle systems and working specific tissues goes a long way toward building optimal conditioning and the prevention of strain and injury. Each treatment has a specific goal or intent. Once that goal or intent has been reached, the treatment is over. The objective is to help the athlete reach optimal performance through injury-free training.

Event:

Pre- and post-event massage therapy are each tailored for distinct purposes.

Pre-event massage is used as a supplement to an athlete’s warm-up to enhance circulation and reduce excess muscle and mental tension prior to competition. It also improves tissue pliability, assisting in metabolic exchange and readying the athlete for top performance.

Post-event massage, on the other hand, is geared toward reducing the trauma that occurs after the cessation of vigorous exercise. Helped by massage, the body is able to gradually slow down yet maintain oxygen flow to tired muscles still requiring elevated levels. Various sports massage techniques aid the flushing of the toxins released during heavy muscle activity, speeding recovery and reducing the risk of injury.

Injury Relief

Even with preventive maintenance, muscles do cramp, tear, bruise, and just plain ache. Sports massage can speed healing and reduce discomfort. The followin are common ailments and methods of response:

* Sprains

A sprain is one of the more serious injuries, requiring immediate attention. Application of ice and compression will help, with massage above and below the sprain to allow release of waste and flow of nutrition. After three days, specific movements and massage strokes keep the circulation flowing, with a slow reintroduction of proper movement through range of motion.

* Muscle Cramps

Therapists usually employ techniques in which antagonist muscles are tensed to relax the cramping muscle. In some instances, ice massage therapy is used on this often excruciatingly painful problem.

* Bruising

Bruises indicate damage to soft tissue where vessels have been ruptured and there is nowhere for the released blood to go. Encouraging circulation around the bruise-not directly on it-is desirable, and can be stimulated by compression, cross-fiber techniques, or even long, deep strokes.

* Muscle Tears/Strains

In extreme cases, where muscles are severely torn, an athlete should immediately seek the help of a physician. If tears are less severe (i.e.,micro-tears and other traumas), massage will benefit the athlete by increasing circulation to the problem areas, thus speeding recovery.

* Sore Muscles

Soreness often occurs in muscles unaccustomed to heavy work. Sports massage can significantly reduce discomfort by flushing the tissues.

Stretching and heavy water intake also help to ease the pain.

Added Performance Edge:

The Contributions of Sports Massage

Sports massage can provide the athlete with several key performance advantages.

Regular sports massage can:

* reduce the chance of injury both through education on stretching and event preparation, as well as deep tissue massage.

* improve range of motion, strength, performance times.

* shorten recovery time between workouts.

* maximize the supply of nutrition and oxygen through increased blood flow.

* enhance elimination of metabolic wastes (i.e., lactic acid) that are a by-product of exercise.

Massage therapists have shop talk of their own, with terms such as muscle adhesions, trigger points, and deep compression forming a standard part of their vocabulary. The therapy is often based on Swedish massage, and frequently includes the addition of one or more diverse techniques. A few of these are described below:

Deep Compression Massage

A rhythmic pumping action which helps to flush built-up metabolic wastes.

Cross-Fibre Massage

In a perpendicular direction, friction is created by rubbing across sore muscle fibers, helping to release muscles from adhesions and scar tissue.

Trigger Point Therapy

Direct pressure is applied to anesthetize or desensitize trigger points-highly sensitive areas in the muscles and connective tissue.

Who benefits from sports massage therapy?

All athletes can, whether they compete at the amateur, professional, or high school and collegiate level. Even animal athletes, such as thoroughbred horses, have been shown to benefit from the skilled application of touch.

Everyone feels like a winner after receiving a massage that is specifically geared to enhancing optimum performance, preventing common injuries, and relieving the physical discomfort that often accompanies athletic activity.

If you’d prefer more hands-on relief, join the host of elite athletes who subscribe to weekly rubdowns to soothe sore muscles. Massage is thought to relax and stretch muscles, increase circulation, reduce tissue swelling and help remove metabolic waste products that have built up in the muscles.

…there are compelling reasons to believe that massage may shorten the time the body takes to recover from exercise. During massage, the warmth and pressure of the [massage therapist’s] hands cause cells to release histamine, a chemical that prompts nearby capillaries to dilate. That, in turn, increases the circulation of blood to the muscles, getting more oxygen and nutrients into the muscle cells and pushing out metabolic wastes, or toxins.

Sports massage amounts to a fine-tuning of the muscle systems-making sure the muscle system has maximum range of motion, maximum supply of nutrition, and maximum elimination of toxic wastes, the by-product of exercise.