Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares some insights into what 'sports massage' actually is and the fact that it's benefits go far beyond sports people and also how the treatment might be adapted to suit you individually.
The term ‘Sports Massage’ can sometimes be misleading if taken literally. It is of course a very useful, and often necessary, treatment for sports people, but it can also be beneficial for a whole host of different people. People working from home since the start of the pandemic might not have the best ergonomic set-up and as a result are experiencing neck or back pain. Take delivery drivers, who are sat in the same position all day, using the same restrictive movement patterns to drive. Think of the security guard, standing in a stationary position on their feet most of the day. All of these people and more are using their bodies in a way that will build muscle tension, increase areas of restriction within the soft tissues, and cause restrictions in ranges and ease of movement. Sports massage can help them!
Sports massage helps to resolve chronic pain, injuries, muscle aches and restricted range of movement. At some point in our life, we have or will experience one of the issues listed above. What is great about sports massage is that it uses a range of techniques to assess and treat a problem, rather than following a repeated routine of massage strokes. Each treatment is tailored to the individual and your therapist will spend some time talking to you and listening to your story before assessing you physically. I have treated countless individuals and even if the problem seems to be manifesting in the same way, every body is different and responds differently to treatment, so no two treatments are ever exactly the same.
Something that seems to put people off getting a sports massage is the reported pain that comes with it. Whilst some techniques can and will cause some degree of pain, it is never the goal of sports massage to cause pain. Your therapist should maintain good communication with you throughout the treatment in regards to pressure and pain, and make use of your breathing to help with relaxation in those more intense moments. I always give my clients a choice if I think that a certain technique is going to really help them but I know that it will be painful for them. I explain the technique beforehand and constantly check in during the application, giving them the choice to bow out at any point. Any deeper massage strokes are always applied very slowly, giving the tissues time to adapt and let me in without causing damage.
If somebody is new to sports massage or is feeling particularly sensitive, I use lighter techniques to work with more superficial soft tissue. Sometimes, a lighter more relaxing touch is exactly what the client needs and it is important to realise that massage is mostly affecting the neuromuscular system rather than effecting change physically. Stress is a major factor is some muscle tension, particularly if focused around the shoulders. The nervous system responds to stress by increasing muscle contraction in order to protect the body and prepare it for fight or flight. A relaxing and gentle approach can melt away the tension because the nervous system is responding to that touch and sending signals to ease off protective muscle tension.
A sports massage should leave you with a feeling of freedom within your body, feeling lighter and moving with more ease. You shouldn’t feel limited by discomfort in your daily activities. Those little everyday stresses on your body can develop into chronic problems if left to their own devices. Sports massage plays an important part in the recovery process, whether that’s from an intense training regime or from everyday stressors. Regular massage allows the body to function with less restriction and the hands on approach provides an important element of social touch, something that has been lacking since the start of the pandemic. If you haven’t before, give sports massage a go this year and see the difference it could make in your life.
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