This Sporting Life

Massage has a long history as a way of enhancing athletes’ performances and preventing sports injuries. Regular massage helps athletes as diverse as football players and dancers keep physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. It improves performance by keeping muscles at the peak of their flexibility and strength, and reduces stiffness and muscle soreness. Sports massage also eases anxiety, keeping the athlete alert, yet calm. Regular sports massage provides improved speed, strength, flexibility, and quicker post-event recovery. Sports massage can be used both before and after an event.

Ready, steady, go
Massage can be extremely beneficial for athletes, or in fact anyone involved in athletic activity. Two to three days before a sporting (or other) event, give your partner a massage to help him or her feel relaxed and supple.

A full body massage is ideal but, if you are short of time, massage the main muscles your partner will be using. Use rocking and kneading movements and, instead of finishing your massage with soporific stroking, use a stimulating movement, like pummeling, to increase blood supply. Athletes also benefit from a light, stimulating massage an hour or so before an event. Use calming strokes instead if your partner is anxious.

Many of my clients are involved in sports or dance and they all claim that after a massage their minds are clear and relaxed, and their performances are greatly improved.

After the event
During exercise, waste products such as carbonic acid and lactic acid are released into the muscles. It is the accumulation of these wastes that can cause muscular tension, stiffness, and pain. The lymphatic system drains them out of the body, but this can take several hours or even days.

With its pumping and stroking action, massage can improve lymphatic flow and speed up the elimination of wastes and thus help prevent stiffness. Massage improves the blood flow and brings fresh oxygenated blood to the area. Deeper movements can also soften and lengthen tense, contracted muscles.

The best techniques to use are those that encourage blood and lymph to drain toward the body. Use light pressure at first, and gradually increase it, always staying within your partner’s “comfort zone.”

Squeezing a limb correctly is similar in effect to squeezing a sponge to extract water. As you squeeze, you encourage the circulation so that waste products from the muscles are flushed into the lymphatic system, and oxygen-rich blood is shunted into the muscle.

What’s the problem?
Anyone who does regular exercise or participates a lot in sports is naturally at greater risk of injury than someone who leads a more sedentary existence. Very few athletes, soccer, football, and baseball players, cyclists, or dancers escape the occasional injury that requires treatment. Fortunately however, most injuries are minor and the soothing effects of massage can ease the pain and stimulate the healing process. Massage can speed up the return to full physical fitness, which can be crucially important for professionals.

If your injured partner has excessive swelling, increased temperature, or great pain, treat with basic first aid and seek medical assistance urgently.

Cuts and bruises
Work very gently around a cut or bruise, stroking toward the nearest lymph nodes. Very gently stroke the flesh above and to the side of the injury. Ask your partner to tell you if there is any tenderness or discomfort. If there is, work further away from the injury.

Never work directly on an injury. Do not massage around an open wound, or on a bruised area unless you know the cause of the bruising.

If you are prone to cramp during or after exercise, massage can definitely help. A cramped muscle is tightly contracted and the blood supply to it is reduced. Massage stretches the muscle and improves circulation, leaving it more flexible. The following instructions are for self-massage.

Hamstring cramp – lie on your back and raise the affected leg. Stroke the back of your thigh firmly, then knead it. Finally, stroke the area again to soothe it.

Calf cramp – sit with the affected leg straight, and bend your foot up so that you stretch the calf muscle. Then knead the muscle firmly, working up your leg. When you feel the muscle relaxing, soothe it by rhythmically stroking down the whole leg.

Foot cramp – grasp your toes, and gently but firmly bend them back while holding your heel with your other hand. Then stroke and knead the sole of the foot. You can do the same movements through your sneakers if you get cramp during an event.