Sports Massage: Massage, Stretch Or Strengthen
Sports massage involves a range of techniques, and a sports massage therapist will often not only offer massage treatments but also recommend at-home exercises to stretch and strengthen the body.
Massage, stretching and strengthening can all be used to release muscle tension and ease DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) after strenuous exercise, help with flexibility and posture, reduce pain and prevent or improve recovery from certain types of injury.
Each technique has its pros and cons, outlined below.
Soft tissue massage
Pros: Many people choose soft tissue massage to relieve muscle tension, pain and stress, or to speed up recovery after exercise.
Soft tissue massage gets your joints moving and can also help to boost the immune system, stabilise blood pressure and improve circulation.
Cons: It’s important that you receive your treatment from a qualified sports massage therapist. While an ineffective massage could simply be a waste of money, there have been cases where massage has not only failed to resolve existing injuries but also caused new ones.
You should also follow carefully the advice given after the massage, by remaining hydrated, and avoiding alcohol or strenuous exercise for around 24 hours.
Pros: Stretching your body regularly can help with flexibility and increase your range of motion. It can reduce the likelihood of strain and injury, and help you carry out exercises more effectively.
Stretching, whether a dynamic stretch as part of your work out or a series of poses in a yoga class, can reduce your chances of experiencing new and recurring issues, for example back pain.
Cons: The benefits of stretching can be lost if carried out incorrectly or at the wrong time. The debate continues in the fitness industry whether it’s better to stretch before or after exercise, and when to use static versus dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching (stretching with movement) should not be rushed, as this can lead to injury, as can over-stretching or holding a stretch for too long.
Stretching can be beneficial as a short-term solution to some injuries, but, following the theory that prevention is better than cure, stretching should be used in combination with strengthening for the best results.
For some issues, you can benefit from stretching more than just the affected area. For example, as lower back pain can be caused by tight hip flexors, it can help to stretch the hip flexors, but strengthen the hamstrings and the glutes, rather than just stretch the back itself.
Pros: Strengthening exercises can increase core and overall stability, prevent the development of muscular imbalances and promote biomechanical efficiency.
While stretching can help the body to recover from injury, strengthening the area can help to prevent the injury happening again or in the first place. This is particularly relevant for those who suffer regular or chronic conditions, such as ankle, knee and hip pain. Runners who experience Iliotibial band syndrome (ITB) tend to focus on stretching the area, but there are other issues such as balance, proprioception, strength and stability of the ankles, knees and hips, that can have more bearing on developing and resolving this kind of issue.
Strengthening your muscles will also help you to carry out every day functional movements and chores. Weight-bearing exercise also improves bone density, making fractures less likely.
Cons: Strength training can lead to injury if not carried out correctly. Certain types of weight training can also carry risks for people with particular underlying conditions, for example, high blood pressure.
A personal trainer or qualified fitness instructor will be able to give you advice on the correct training programme for your levels of fitness and goals.
While all three techniques have their pros and cons, the best results are sometimes found by combining the three, or by choosing the right action at the right time. If you’d like to find out more, it’s worth speaking to a sports massage specialist or a qualified personal trainer or fitness instructor.