Sports Massage – A Touchy Subject

Sports Massage - A Touchy Subject

Randwick Sports Massage

We now offer sports massage in Randwick at our physio practice, Movement Centre. A quick search of the internet will turn up lots of information regarding massage. It is a hot topic of debate amongst physios. Traditionally massage has made up a huge amount of time and energy spent on the physio bed. For sports injuries, post-op rehab, and sore necks and backs – massage has almost always been part of the management. The past 10 years or so has seen an increase in skepticism regarding the benefits of massage. Some physios have been ditching it completely. And some physios and patients prefer non-hands therapies utilising all sorts of novel approaches like dry-needling, machines (TENS, massage guns, ultrasound), or even cupping. We wanted to take a quick dive into the evidence behind massage. Especially looking at how to implement massage into your injury management. As well as explaining how we approach sports massage in Randwick.

Sports massage: A quick view of some of the evidence:

A quick google search tells us the following: There is scientific evidence that sports massage can provide a range of benefits for athletes, including:
    Improved flexibility:
A study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that massage therapy can increase joint range of motion and flexibility, which can lead to improved athletic performance. A 2020 systematic review (Davis et al, 2020) in the BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine journal also found sports massage could help improve flexibility.
    Reduced muscle soreness:
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that massage therapy can reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery after exercise. Likewise this was supported by the 2020 review by Davis et al
    Increased blood flow:
Massage therapy has been shown to increase blood flow to the muscles, which can help improve circulation and nutrient delivery, as well as reduce inflammation.
    Reduced anxiety:
A study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy can reduce anxiety and improve mood in athletes.
    Improved sleep:
A study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that massage therapy can improve sleep quality and duration in athletes.
    Reduced injury risk:
Massage therapy can help prevent injuries by improving flexibility, reducing muscle tension and promoting better recovery after exercise. Overall, while there is still more research needed to fully understand the mechanisms and benefits of sports massage, the existing evidence suggests that it can be a valuable tool for athletes looking to improve their performance and recovery.
    Post-competition massage:
We love the use of massage in the 24 hours after big competition. Especially to capitalise on all the physiological benefits listed above. If you have a marathon, ocean swim or powerlifting competition – consider massage afterwards to help relax and recover.

Can massage help relieve pain – and what is the evidence?

Massage has been used for centuries as a form of therapy to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and relieve pain. There is some scientific evidence to support the use of massage for pain relief. There are many different proposed mechanisms for how massage can improve pain. However it is a very difficult process to elucidate. The mechanisms outlined above can all have some impact on pain. The true cause and effect however is unknown. It is an incredibly hard therapy to study as it is near impossible to create double-blind scenarios for high-quality studies.

Proposed mechanisms on pain relief

One of the mechanisms through which massage can help alleviate pain is by reducing inflammation. A study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for reducing inflammation. Massage therapy can also increase blood flow to the affected area, which can help reduce pain and promote healing. A study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found that massage therapy can increase blood flow to the muscle tissues, which can help relieve pain and soreness. Furthermore, a review of 60 clinical trials published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that massage therapy is effective for relieving pain in different conditions, including back pain, neck pain, and headache. However, the review authors noted that more research is needed to determine the optimal massage techniques and treatment protocols for pain relief. Overall, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms through which massage can help alleviate pain. It is important to note that massage should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment, but rather as a complementary therapy to help manage pain. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new therapy. For this reason, sports massage in Randwick at Movement Centre is always preceded by a thorough assessment. And where necessary, we encourage patients to pursue more appropriate means for pain and injury management.

Limitations in the research

The evidence needs to be applied in a very measured way. There is a dearth of high quality research into sports physio massage. This is due to many factors. Firstly, it is near impossible to create double-blind randomised controlled trials for massage treatments. Secondly, it is hard to standardise the delivery of the treatment across all participants in the study, and across different studies. And most importantly of all perhaps, is the fact that perception of massage is so subjective. Some people love massage. Some people hate it. And we all respond to different levels of pressure, discomfort, and even ticklishness. This means the use of massage needs to be considered based on each individual’s needs and preferences. For sports massage in Randwick, we use the saying “massage is exactly as good as it feels”. That is to say – the benefits are often so subjective and personalised, that the way it makes the patient feel is key. We hate to see patients who have seen other physios and masseuses and been pummelled black and blue in the search of pain relief. There is no minimum pressure or pain necessary for the massage to feel beneficial. There is no hidden “reset” button deep in our muscles that needs to be dug out with deep pressure.

What about “Good pain”?

Some people feel they need a degree of “good pain” in their massage. This is absolutely fine. For them. We explain to our patients that as long as the sensation feels good, then it is likely delivering the desired outcome. What we don’t want is a patient putting up with extreme pain, in the hope that it will yield a long term benefit. This is rarely the case.

Sports massage for relaxation

Let’s not forget – sometimes it can be nice to just relax for an hour. Especially in active populations. Not all massage has to focus on digging into sore muscles. Nor does it need to be tailored to injury management. Sometimes simply getting some relaxing hands-on work can be just what we need.

Opportunity cost

Understanding all of this, we must weigh the benefits of massage against the opportunity cost. Is an individual’s time and money with a physio better spent doing something else? Again, this is a very subjective, individualised approach. Massage can become a great adjunct for the physio to use. Especially if exercise and movement has been optimised. And when the patient is self motivated with their own active treatment. If movement, strength and confidence is lacking, then massage can still be used. However we recommend it as a secondary modality to help facilitate these other goals of movement, strength, function. Movement Centre’s approach to Sports Massage in Randwick is based on our understanding of this information. Massage can be a great tool for our patients. It is especially useful in active populations who are already doing lots of movement, stretching and strength work. The delivery of the massage has to be tailored to the individual, and feel “good” to the patient.

Come and see our Randwick team

Come and see us at Movement Centre for Sports massage in Randwick. Our expert team will make sure you are getting the most up to date care. And making sure it is personalised to your needs.
Disclaimer: The Movement Centre provides this information as an educational service. The information contained on this website and in this blog is not intended to serve as or replace actual medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance should consult their local Randwick Physio, general practitioner, medical specialist, or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.