Your body aches, your muscles are hard and stiff and it’s a pain in the neck, literally. These days, we’re so spoilt for a choice when it comes to a massage, that picking the right “knead” can itself be quite stressful.

Looking up “massage” online and you’ll be confronted by everything from a soothing aromatherapy massage to hot stones being placed on your aching body. Then there’s the entire Asian massage repertoire: Shiatsu (Japanese finger pressing); Thai (pressing and stretching); Indonesian (thumb and hand pressing and kneading with special oils and herbal scrubs); and Chinese (deep manipulation or fast twisting of the body tissues).

With such overwhelming choices, it seems like time to get back to the basics of a good old fashioned rub down. Perhaps that’s why there’s a growing interest in deep tissue sports massage.

What is sports massage?

Though it’s well known in Australia, sports massage has it’s roots being traced back to the ancient Greeks who combined massage with their Olympic exertions, but it was the Russian Olympians who formally incorporated massage into their training in the 1960s. They were the first team to have a therapist travel with them and work on their athletes. Today, a resident sports masseur is an integral part – along side nutrition and sports psychology – of any athlete’s training program.

Traditionally, sports massage for athletes was divided into pre-event massage (to warm up muscles), post-event (to reduce swelling and remove lactic acid and other wastes) and maintenance massage (to increase blood flow and nutrients to muscles).

These days sports massage has gone mainstream and can benefit anyone suffering from muscle pain and stiffness, strains, tension, sports injuries or repetitive strain injuries like tennis elbow and even chronic conditions like frozen shoulder.

Who needs it?

Don’t be put off by the term “sports” in the “sports massage” phrase. Even if the most vigorous exercise you ever do is digging under your couch for the remote, you’re still the perfect candidate for sports massage. Inactivity can be more taxing on muscles than actually working out in say, the local gym as it can cause the muscles to waste away, or ‘atrophy’.

Alternatively, it can cause the muscles to stiffen.

Sports massage will “exercise” the muscles mechanically and milk stagnant wastes from them, allowing blood to flow smoothly once again.

Sports massage is ideal for the fast and furious pace of life in which we live in. It breaks down tension and keeps the body in “condition”. Given its focus on targeting painful or injured areas of the musculature, its perfect for honing in on that common Australian syndrome: Stiff shoulders, neck and back.

So what does sports massage feel like?

Sports massage uses oils, balms and usually a heating medium to generate heat to increase blood flow to the affected area. Even aromatherapy essential oils are incorporated to promote circulation. You can typically expect a combination of long, soothing strokes with deeper pressure. You may even feel some Shiatsu techniques of finger pressing of “trigger-points” (areas within the belly of the muscle that radiate pain).

You probably won’t fall asleep during a sports massage, as the aim is to target areas of pain and discomfort during and throughout the session. However, the massage should not be agonising. If any pressure causes excruciating pain and generates an instinctive urge to kick the therapist, tell them to back off!

How will I feel after the session?

You’ll feel like you really had a proper massage. Sports massage can work deeply into muscle fibres to release locked in toxicity. When this flows through the bloodstream on its way out of the body, you may feel a bit light-headed and drowsy. You’ll probably sleep like a log that same night after the session. Drink lots of fluids (water) not energy drinks or sports drinks (sugar and caffeine loaded) as this will flush out the toxins.

Expect the areas worked on to feel tender for up to 48 hours after the massage. Your body should feel lighter, free and loose after the session.

What will it do for you?

Not many people need to be persuaded that massage feels great, but it’s been scientifically proven that it’s good for your body.

Mr Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neuroscience at Stanford University, California, says that massage may work in the same way that Valium does. That is, it loosens up the muscles, as Valium is a drug registered under the muscle relaxant category.

When you’re stressed, the brain sends a message to the body that makes the muscles contract, and you feel that tension both physically and mentally.

Massage relaxes the muscles by sending a message to the brain to relax. The brain then stops sending out stress hormones.

A massage also has other benefits. It stimulates the circulation of blood and lymph: Blood flow increases by 10% while lymph flow increases by 25%: Red blood cell count is raised by 50% and there is also an increase in infection-fighting leukocytes in the blood.

It promotes suppleness of joints and muscles, removing lactic acid and toxins from muscles and expanding tissues so that nutrients can pour in from the arteries and capillaries.

Your respiratory system also benefits – there is a 5-fold increase in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cells; digestion in the small and large intestines improves; skin is softened and given more elasticity; the nervous system is stimulated and relaxed, thus allowing it to function better. Best of all, massage promotes the release of endorphins, those happy hormones which are released when you exercise.

So in much the same way that a good diet and regular exercise make you feel good, so does regular massage. To benefit, you should have a minimum of one massage every two weeks to stay in shape. Once a week if your training and once a month to stay healthy.

In health,

Joe