It is probably not surprising that massage can be beneficial 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. In this post, we dug a little deeper and came up with five reasons massage is beneficial for athletes that you might not think of or expect.
Massage can alleviate breathing pattern disorders.
Athletes need to breathe well to perform well. In almost any sport you do, how you breathe is important. Being able to take deep, full breaths helps to regulate your heart rate and ensures your muscles are getting regular surges of fresh oxygen. Some people, athletes included, experience breathing pattern disorders, – shallow and rapid breath patterns that utilize only the muscles in the upper body, rather than the diaphragm and intercostal muscles involved in normal breathing.
Massage can actually help athletes 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 between the ribs, as well as 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 due to the imbalance between carbon dioxide and oxygen which is created by limited blood flow and which can cause a tightening of the fascia. In general, massage addresses tight and constricted fascia – the sheath of tissue that surrounds muscles – so massage helps to alleviate this side effect of 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. From runners to rock climbers, posture and form can mean the difference between winning the gold and staying home.
While most of us are aware that we could always give more attention to noticing and learning better posture, we may sometimes develop 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 him or her more vulnerable to injury.
Massage therapy can help reduce stress in the body, allowing it to return to its normal shape. Massage softens the muscles, allowing them to relax enough that these imbalances may be corrected, and normal posture is restored. Massage can also target specific muscle groups in order to release tightness in your body that might be preventing you from moving in the most optimal way.
Massage can help with chronic pain.
Many athletic activities cause repeated stress in one or more specific areas of the body. If your body hasn’t had time to recover and fully heal, chronic pain may result. Research has shown that during a massage, the body produces hormones called endorphins, which inhibit pain receptors. With less pain, natural healing processes are improved.
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. Cortisol has many damaging effects on the physical body as well as the mind, and often impairs an athlete’s ability to perform at his or her best. Research has repeatedly shown that massage decreases cortisol production, and may stave off these negative effects of cortisol.
Massage can build new mitochondria.
Last but not least, maybe the most surprising benefit of massage is what happens on the cellular level. Research has shown massage after strenuous activity promotes the growth of new mitochondria in our body. Mitochondria are often referred to as the “powerhouses” of cells. What that means functionally is 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.
Consider having a massage to help you recover and perform better.