While I am “in-season,” nothing beats massage therapy for recovering from practice, games, weight lifting, and all the other physical stress of playing professional basketball. Without weekly (or more) massage sessions, I am sure my body wouldn’t survive a full season anymore.
Sadly, soft-tissue massage therapy is one of the most overlooked aspects of the recovery process for athletes. People often believe that massage therapy is only a relaxing treat, but it is truly vital for proper muscle recovery.
Especially if you are looking to get ready for an athletic competition, soft tissue massage therapy is extremely useful.
There are several methods of soft-tissue therapy, but through a traditional massage is my favorite method. Soft tissue mobilization through massage therapy is excellent for speeding up recovery time from:
- Athletic Competitions (games)
- Powerlifting or Olympic Lifting Training Sessions
- High-Intensity Interval Training
Although there certainly are specific benefits for athletes, soft tissue therapy serves non-athletes as well.
As a result of physical overuse and overload, massages also play a vital role in the prevention of injury and are 100% essential to the injury-rehabilitation process.
What is Soft Tissue Massage Therapy?
Soft tissue massage therapy involves directly massaging the muscles and other soft tissues on the body, with the goal of improving their health. These massages commonly target the:
- Other Connective Tissues
Although there are other forms of soft tissue therapy, massage is the most commonly used.
This massage therapy typically includes a range of various massage depths and pressures, while also utilizing different lengths of massage.
Comparatively, deep tissue massage therapy focuses more on the deeper layers of muscles in your body. Deep tissue massage therapy is generally slower and firmer, with massage strokes that focus pressure much deeper than a soft-tissue massage.
Outside of the difference in pressure, both these types of massage therapy are essentially the same.
Although they work to varying degrees respectively, both deep tissue and soft tissue therapy increase circulation and blood flow, and reduce inflammation throughout your muscles, joints, tendons, and other tissue.
Although I use both types of massage therapy year-round, I believe it is most-necessary when recovering from an injury. If you have a sprain or strain, massage therapy is crucial to recovering quickly. Not only will you recover faster, but your body will also remain healthier through the entire rehabilitation process if you utilize massage therapy.
Check out these four specific reasons you need to include soft tissue mobilization into your recovery routine!
1.) Soft Tissue Mobilization Benefits: Improved Flexibility and Range of Motion
Even if you are strictly a bodybuilder, improving your range of motion and flexibility is vital to being successful. If you work a desk job, improved flexibility means less back pain at the end of the day.
Whether you are an athlete or a bodybuilder, a flexible and pliable body will improve your performance and ability level.
Muscle tension caused by high-intensity training cycles and competitions can lead to several negative effects such as the build-up of collagen scar tissue and the development of over-tight muscles.
Massage therapy helps to stretch the muscle fiber, which helps to maintain and promote flexibility.
Combining massage therapy with daily yoga practice is my solution for improving flexibility even within my basketball seasons, and I am confident it is a great strategy for you as well.
As shown through a study produced in the International Journal of Neuroscience, massage therapy is legitimately effective for improving range of motion.
2.) Soft Tissue Therapy Benefits: Improved Circulation and Blood Flow
Another benefit of massage therapy is that you will quickly experience an improvement in circulation and blood flow. There are numerous benefits of increased circulation, regardless of whether you consider yourself an athlete or not.
For weightlifters, an improvement in circulation will help create the “pump” effect, as well as helping transport nutrients throughout the body for quicker recovery.
For athletes, increased circulation is also strongly correlated with increased oxygen consumption, enabling increased strength and endurance in competition.
Whether you are doing heavy-weight lifting, playing a sport, or sitting in an office desk for too many hours, the body needs additional maintenance to handle all the microscopic facial tissue damage you are doing.
This maintenance is not possible without ample blood flow, which is one of the main reasons that massage therapy is vital for athletes and others.
Furthermore, this treatment option also has a significant impact on the lymphatic and blood circulation system for signaling the removal of wasted and toxins such as lactic acid. However, you shouldn’t use massage therapy directly following a workout to remove lactic acid.
A study conducted at the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies researched the effect of massage therapy on lactic acid immediately following a training session, and concluded that it impairs lactic acid removal following strenuous exercise by impeding blood flow mechanically.
Use soft tissue massage therapy to improve your circulation and blood flow, just don’t do it directly after training!
3.) Benefits of Soft Tissue Therapy: Muscle and Joint Pain Reduction
Whether it is from overwork, injury, or any other reason, many people deal with muscle and joint pain every day. However, you don’t have to!
Massage therapy is an excellent option to treat muscle and joint pain.
Regardless of your level as an athlete, pain does not allow anyone to perform at their best. For most people, one-hour long massage per month can dramatically reduce physical pain. Personally, I will do about four massages per month in season, and one or two when I am out of season.
4.) Benefits of Soft Tissue Massage Therapy for Athletes: Improves Sleep and Decreases Tension
A massage will help your muscles relax, erase tension from your body, and promote a longer and deeper sleep each night. You can use melatonin or a memory foam pillow to improve your sleep quality, but massage therapy will work just as well! For those people who have insomnia or anxiety-related sleep issues, this is an excellent therapy choice for you!
Getting a good night of sleep every night is crucial to being a good athlete (believe me), but sleeping with muscle pain or injuries is incredibly difficult. A quality night of sleep can easily be ruined by muscle tension and discomfort throughout your body when you are trying to fall asleep.
Fortunately, research has shown that massage therapy is effective for improving sleep quality in individuals suffering from distinct physical pain.
According to a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology, massage therapy induced patients with fibromyalgia to experience
“an increase in the number of sleep hours and a decrease in their sleep movements.”
From all accounts, fibromyalgia is an especially insufferable pain. If massage therapy can assist with managing this pain, it can handle a lot.
Massage Therapy Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Being an athlete is stressful (believe me). We love the sports we play and the competition, but there is no denying the constant anxiety of looking over your shoulder and trying to compete your best every single day of the year.
This pressure can cause stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Fortunately, soft tissue massage therapy is a safe and effective option.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, massage therapy induces stress-alleviating effects (decreased cortisol levels) and activating effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) which are helpful for managing a variety of medical issues and stressful experiences.
Again- believe me, taking an hour for a massage is one of the best ways to relax and unwind ever created.
Concluding Thoughts – Reasons Athletes Need Soft Tissue Massage Therapy
If you are an athlete, treating yourself to consistent soft tissue massages is necessary for performing at your best. Fortunately, many athletes have an athletic trainer or physical therapist who can do this treatment for them often.
Regardless of whether you are an athlete or not, soft tissue mobilization is an excellent way to improve your health. There are many more benefits of this type of therapy than I have listed here, and it is a holistic health treatment option that can benefits legitimately everyone.
Taking an hour for a proper soft tissue therapy session can reduce your risk of reoccurring injuries, and improve your body dramatically!