Summer can be a great time to get moving, because the weather tends to be more welcoming. However, before you dive into a new sport or exercise routine, consider the role of massage therapy when it comes to staying active and healthy, and improving your athletic performance. “Massage therapy can reduce the risk of soft-tissue injury, reduce recovery time after exercise or injury, and help maintain flexibility and optimal range of motion—all of which can combine to keep the weekend athlete in play,” said Mark W. Dixon, B.C.T.M.B., H.H.P., a sports massage therapist in Newport Beach, California.
In fact, research published in 2012 in Science Translational Medicine indicated that massage might reduce inflammation post-exercise much the same way anti-inflammatory medicine does.
Enhance training and athletic performance
For recreational cyclist Joe Quinby, one of Dixon’s regular clients, massage therapy as part of his overall training process means more time on the bike and less time out for rest and recovery.
“I make sure I get in there after a long organized ride of 100 miles or more. I put it on my preride checklist to make an appointment for massage in the week after the ride,” Quinby said. “What I’ve noticed is that it allows me to get right back on the bike and train. I rode 100 miles, got a massage two days later and actually rode stronger the next day than I did in the race.”
Help muscles recover
According to Amy Murry, a sports massage therapist in Olympia, Washington, massage speeds recovery for the weekend athlete because it boosts the body’s own healing process.
“Massage therapy can assist the body in breaking down adhesions and scar tissue, and it also helps reintroduce blood flow to improve circulation, which brings cell nutrition and oxygen to those muscle cells to revitalize and renew,” Murry said. Research published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2009 indicated that massage might aid in recovery, particularly among women, from the temporary state of immunosuppression often induced by exercise.
When the body does not have the chance to fully heal and recover before the weekend athlete jumps back into the next sporting event or exercise session, the odds of suffering an injury may be higher. Jodi Halvorson, one of Murry’s regular clients, learned this lesson when she first began training for 50-mile ultramarathons. “I was fairly new to running when I noticed one of my calf muscles getting super tight, but I just thought it meant I was working out really hard,” Halvorson said. “Actually, the muscle was so tight it was literally pulling on my shin and caused a stress fracture. The injury was from running and not taking care of those muscles, and I was unable to run for like four months after that.”
Determined to take better care of her body and avoid another long stint on the sidelines, Halvorson began booking appointments for massage therapy once a week. She said she has not only been injury-free since she started the weekly massage sessions, but she also finds her recovery time is much faster after intense training and big events.
“Massage is a tool that is often overlooked for shinier bicycles and the next best running shoe, but if your body is full of adhesions and scar tissue, it doesn’t matter what shoe or bike you use,” Murry said. “You need to take care of your musculoskeletal equipment first and foremost.”
About the Author
Brandi Schlossberg is an avid bodywork client and full-time journalist based in Reno, Nevada. She has written on many topics for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Why Massage Might be Better than Over-the-Counter Pain Pills.”