Sports massage is a form of bodywork geared toward participants in athletics. It is used to help prevent injuries, to prepare the body for athletic activity and maintain it in optimal condition, and to help athletes recover from workouts and injuries. Sports massage has three basic forms: pre-event massage, post-event massage, and maintenance massage.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), this includes individuals with bleeding disorders, low blood platelet counts, or those who are taking blood thinning medications. When these types of conditions are present, the NCCIH indicates that a sports massage with deep tissue work is generally not recommended.
While a typical runner’s sports massage focuses primarily on the legs, Denunzio insists on incorporating upper body work as well. As she explains it, “nobody has perfect form, especially when they’re fatigued” and runners can unknowingly tense their upper bodies when working out, which in turn creates tightness in their arms, shoulders and back. Ideally, those areas should receive a little TLC as well.
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An effective maintenance program is based on the massage therapist's understanding of anatomy and kinesiology, combined with an expert knowledge of which muscles are used in a given sport and which are likely candidates for trouble. By zeroing in on particular muscle groups and working specific tissues, the sports massage therapist can help the athlete maintain or improve range of motion and muscle flexibility. The overall objective of a maintenance program is to help the athlete reach optimal performance through injury-free training.
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Reflexology is best for people who are looking to relax or restore their natural energy levels. It’s also a good option if you aren’t comfortable being touched on your entire body. Reflexology uses gentle to firm pressure on different pressure points of the feet, hands, and ears. You can wear loose, comfortable clothing that allows access to your legs.
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A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that people's blood pressure fell after a single 45 to 60 minute deep tissue massage. Additionally, a 2010 meta-analysis in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that massage modalities like deep tissue reduce stress hormone levels and heart rate while boosting mood and relaxation by triggering the release of oxytocin and serotonin.
Thai massage – or Nuat Thai – combines both physical and energetic aspects. It is a deep, full-body massage progressing from the feet up, and focusing on sen or energy lines throughout the body, with the aim of clearing blockages in these lines, and thus stimulating the flow of blood and lymph throughout the body. It draws on yoga, acupressure and reflexology.
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Deep tissue massages are often utilized following injuries to help break up newly forming scar tissue that can make recovery more difficult and lead to stiffness. Massage has been shown to help reduce inflammation and muscle spasms by stimulating blood flow, loosening up muscles to allow for more oxygen and also helping reduce the nervous system’s automatic stress response.