Throughout history, as far back as the Greeks and Romans, massage was combined with athletic training to maximize performance, and today recognized as a specialty by the American Massage Therapy Association.
Whether engaged in sports as a hobby or profession, repetitive motion, incorrect body mechanics while performing, insufficient rest time between workouts, and injury are common to athletes and all contribute to tissue damage, altering the correct anatomical alignment of the body, and in turn affecting optimum performance.
Muscles in a constant state of contraction, tension, overuse, and/or repetitive motion, (such as in long distance runners) results in tissue hypoxia where not enough blood and oxygen is allowed to flow into the muscles. Active muscles burn energy and need oxygen, glucose and other nutrients to sustain. With decreased blood supply, muscles begin to starve and chemical imbalances can occur leading to microscopic tears, bleeding, inflammation and finally scar tissue build up. This can occur as the result of an acute injury such as blunt force trauma, fall, strain or sprain as well.
What Our Body Does To Heal Damaged Tissue
Injuring and tearing just a few microscopic strands of muscle can lead to bleeding. The bleeding signals a repair response, which involves blood clotting made of platelets (blood cells), and proteins called fibrin. Fibrin clots act as a scaffold for the invasion of cells called fibroblasts, the main function of which is to gradually deliver ground substances (a gel like substance containing proteins and water), and collagen fiber to the injured connective tissue to facilitate healing.
Fibrin, a glue-like substance, seeps throughout the layers of damaged muscle tissue like a web, making the injured area sticky. As fibrin is not very specific about what it glues together, it can glue all of the tissue in the area back together, whether it’s damaged or not. As the healing process completes itself, the “glue” leads to scar tissue buildup, which is tough, brittle, inflexible, and the major cause of re-injury. Research shows that poor strength in any given muscle is a strong predictor of injury, and the lower the strength the higher the risk.
Eventually, if not treated and left to continue, the gliding motion of muscles, nerves, and joints become altered, and muscles tighten, shorten (to help protect the tear) and weaken. Tightened tissue can also lead to acute conditions such as nerve entrapment (leading to numbness, tingling or weakness), muscle adhesions, pain, loss of range of motion, and inflammation among others.
The Advantage Of Deep Tissue Massage
Inflammation is the most prominent symptom of both overuse and acute type injuries. While inflammation is a natural part of the healing process, chronic inflammation may lead to increased tissue degradation. Taking a rest will help with chronic inflammation, however it will not remove adhesions. As soon as you re-engage in your sport the adhesions will become inflamed and painful.
An advanced deep tissue massage practitioner, using a variety of techniques, can help break down and “clean out” muscle adhesions and scar tissue formations. This allows oxygen and nutrient rich blood back into the starved areas, carrying away wastes and toxins, and in the process allows healing of the connective tissue to occur.
Massage for athletes can shorten recovery time between workouts, improve range of motion, and reduce the risk of injury by keeping muscles supple and relaxed. Restructuring damaged connective tissue allows muscles to regain their natural alignment, maximizing the outcome – staying in the game and peak performance.
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