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Massage Therapy, Fitness and Optimal Performance

Massage therapy is often used as an adjunct to a fitness routine to assist in achieving peak athletic performance. There are a variety of ways in which massage therapy is used to promote optimal fitness – massage therapy is not all just about spas and “fluff”. Massage can be used to increase the suppleness of muscle, aid in recovery after exertion, assist in fluid removal in the presence of injury or inflammation (from non-infectious origins) or control pain through the release of endorphins.
Massage therapy affects muscles in 2 ways: mechanically and chemically. Mechanically, it is the kneading, stretching and compression of the tissue which stimulates the smooth muscle of the blood vessels and increases blood flow to and from the area. (due to an increase in histamine – see below). Manual manipulation of the tissue will also literally break adhesions and scar tissue, regardless of whether techniques are applied with or against the muscle fibre. This decrease in inelastic scar tissue will allow muscles to contract and elongate as they should, and will increase muscle performance.
At a chemical level, massage therapy can cause the release of “endorphins”, neurotransmitters that reduce the perception of pain, and increase a feeling of wellbeing. Increased permeability of the blood vessels is caused by release of histamine in response to mechanical stimulation – this increase in blood flow leads to “hyperemia”, redness which is often visible after a massage.
The application of therapeutic massage plays a role in event preparation as well as recovery and maintenance, though the goals and application will be different depending on the timing of the treatment in relation to the activity.
Pre-event, the purpose of massage is to “wake-up” and warm-up the muscles, ensuring that they are ready for physical demands to be placed on them. During a pre-event treatment, the movements of the therapist are quick, stimulating the nerves in the area and increasing the ability of a muscle to react to stimuli. Circulation to the muscle is also increased and with it oxygen delivery to the muscle cells, causing a subsequent increase in cellular metabolism and improved functionality. Increased blood flow also warms up the muscle, allowing for greater pre-event stretching, imperative to optimizing performance and reducing injury due to muscle strain.
Post-event massage is much slower, encouraging the body to relax after exertion. Massage therapy at this stage is utilized to assist the body in removing metabolic waste, relaxing and stretching the fatigued muscle. This is done by increasing the circulation and pliability of the muscle tissue. The increased removal of metabolic waste such as lactic acid will decrease recovery time and soreness in the days following an event.
Massage therapy used as a maintenance tool will assist an athlete in maintaining optimal muscle health. During maintenance treatments, the therapist will assess the condition of tissue and establish a treatment plan in conjunction with the goals and condition of the client. It is during these treatments that muscle imbalances are often identified; adhesions and scar tissue are broken down (thus increasing muscle functionality) via manipulation, stretching and breaking down of tissue. Circulation is increased, assisting in oxygen delivery and metabolic waste removal.
Regardless of fitness level, massage therapy can help a fitness enthusiast or athlete achieve his or her performance goals by promoting and maintaining muscle health.…