The Complete Workout
Why are so many sports and fitness enthusiasts including regular therapeutic massage as a part of their conditioning programs? There is a growing awareness that a complete workout routine includes not only the exercises itself, but also caring for the wear-and-tear of minor injuries that naturally occur with strenuous movement. The physiological and psychological benefits of massage make it an ideal compliment to a total program.
Who can benefit from regular massage? Anyone who routinely stretches their physical limits through movement such as running, cycling, hiking, swimming, dancing, tennis and other racquet sports, strength training and aerobics. In fact, anyone who uses their bodies strenuously in their work will find relief with therapeutic massage.
Massage is beneficial when starting a conditioning program because it helps you get into good shape faster, with less stiffness and soreness. It helps you recover faster from heavy workouts and relieves conditions which may cause injury. Massage can be something to look forward to after a workout - a healthy reward.
What Happens When You Exercise?
Regular exercise produces positive physical results like increased muscular strength and endurance, more efficient heart and respiratory functioning, and greater flexibility. Exercise, along with a healthy diet, also results in less body fat and greater lean body mass. These are the components of health-related fitness.
These positive physical changes occur as the body gradually adapts to the greater demands put on it by regular exercise. The body improves its functioning to meet the challenges placed on it. Conditioning has been described as a process of pushing the physical limits (tearing down), recovery, and the building up to meet the new demands. Recovery is often overlooked, but is essential for the rebuilding phase, and to realizing the benefits of a conditioning program.
The "tearing down" phase of the adaptation process often involves stiffness and soreness, especially when the amount of movement is significantly increased from what the body has been use to in the past. Referring to post-exercise soreness, people often comment about finding muscles "I didn't even know I had."
Delayed muscle soreness (24-48 hours after exercise) may be caused by any number of different factors. Some possible causes are minor muscle or connective tissue damage, local muscle spasms that reduce blood flow, or a build up of waste products from energy production.
Trigger points or stress points may also cause pain when pressed, which may radiate pain to a larger area. They are not bruises, but rather small areas of spasm. Trigger points may be caused by sudden trauma (like falling or being hit), or from repeated use of a particular muscle.
Heavily exercised muscle may also lose their capacity to relax, causing chronically tight muscles and loss of flexibility. Lack of flexibility is often linked to muscle soreness, and predisposes you to injuries, especially muscle pulls and tears. Blood flow through tight muscles is poor, which also causes pain.
How Massage Helps
Recovery. Therapeutic massage helps the body recover from the stresses of strenuous exercise and facilitates the rebuilding phase of conditioning. The physiological benefits of massage include improved blood and lymph circulation, muscle relaxation and general relaxation. These in turn lead to removal of waste products and better cell nutrition, normalization and greater elasticity of tissues, deactivation of trigger points and faster healing of injuries. It all adds up to relief from soreness and stiffness, better flexibility and less potential for future injury.
In addition to general recovery, massage may also focus on specific muscles used in sport or fitness activity. For example, areas of greater stress for runners and dancers are in the legs, for swimmers in the upper body, for tennis players in the arms, for golfers in the low back. These areas are more likely to be tight, loose flexibility and develop trigger points.
Overtraining. Adequate recovery is also a major factor in avoiding the overtraining syndrome. Overtraining is characterized by irritability, apathy, altered appetite, increased frequency of injury, increased resting heart rate, and/ or insomnia. It occurs when the body is not allowed to recover adaquately between bouts of heavy exercise. Therapeutic massage helps you avoid overtraining by facilitating recovery through general relaxation and its other physiological effects.
Trouble Spots. You may also have your own unique trouble spots, perhaps from past injuries. A massage therapist can pay special attention to these areas, monitor them for developing problems and help keep them in good condition.
© Buckland Massage and Neuromuscular Center, South Windsor, Connecticut