It is probably not surprising that massage can be helpful for athletes. Those of us that ask a lot from our physical bodies on a regular basis can benefit from practices, like massage therapy, that support our bodies in staying healthy and performing at their highest level. There are many reasons why massage can benefit athletes! Here are just a few of them:
Massage can alleviate breathing pattern disorders.
Athletes need to breathe well to perform well. In almost any sport you do, breath is important. Taking deep, full breaths helps regulate your heart rate and ensures your muscles are getting enough oxygen. Some people experience what is known as breathing pattern disorders. These shallow and rapid breath patterns only utilize the muscles in the upper body. Comparatively, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles are involved during normal breath patterns.
An amazing massage benefit for athletes is how massage can actually help you breathe deeper and alleviate breathing pattern disorders. Massage helps lengthen and relax the muscles, including the smooth muscles of the diaphragm area, the intercostal muscles, and the abdominal connective tissue. Releasing and lengthening these muscles helps improve blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the body. One of the side effects of breathing pattern disorders is a rise in the pH level of the blood. This is due to the imbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen created by limited blood flow, which can cause a tightening of the fascia (the sheath of tissue that surrounds muscles).
In general, massage works through tight and constricted fascia to help alleviate restricted breathing. Massage can also improve mobility in the shoulder girdle, creating more space for respiration to occur.
Massage can improve posture and form.
Having correct form is very important for athletes of all kinds. Unfortunately, our bodies sometimes get into habits of poor posture and form due to physical stress. When the body is stressed, it will naturally modify its posture to reduce stress in the area that’s hurting and distribute that pain to other areas of the body.
A slightly altered posture can lead to pain and imbalance in the body that can affect an athlete’s performance and make them more vulnerable to injury.
Thankfully, massage therapy can help reduce stress in the body, allowing it to return to its normal shape. This practice softens the muscles, allowing them to relax enough for the bones to move back into their normal structure. Massage can also target specific muscle groups in order to release tightness in the body that might be preventing you from moving in the most optimal way.
Massage can help with chronic pain.
Chronic pain can manifest itself as repeated stress on one area of the body that’s never fully allowed to heal. During a massage, the body produces hormones called endorphins. These hormones inhibit pain receptors, essentially reducing the intensity of the feeling of pain in the body. Endorphins also reduce overall stress in the body, which allows athletes to rest more easily and fully. Ultimately, this rest is what will allow the body to heal, so endorphin production doesn’t just reduce the sensation of pain, it also allows the body to relax and access the natural healing it needs.
Massage can reduce cortisol production.
At the same time that regular massage increases the production of endorphins, it decreases the production of cortisol, a hormone that causes stress in the body. Research has shown repeatedly that massage decreases cortisol production, which has a damaging effect on the physical body as well as the mind, impairing an athlete’s ability to perform at their best.
Massage can build new mitochondria.
Maybe the most surprising benefit of massage for athletes is what happens on the cellular level. Research has shown massage after strenuous activity promotes the growth of new mitochondria in our cells. Many people are familiar with the idea that mitochondria is the “powerhouse” of the cell. This means that mitochondria are what converts the food we eat into energy in the form our body can use. The more mitochondria in a cell, the more that cell can make usable energy. For athletes, the more mitochondria they have, the stronger and better they can perform.
Interested in learning more about the ways massage therapy can help you? Contact us with any questions you have! Both our Montpelier and Williston offices offer massage therapy, so book an appointment at either location for the athlete in your life.