Massage therapy has long been used to treat muscle aches and pains, as well as a form of treatment for a variety of illnesses. Dating back thousands of years, massage therapy boasts a rich history of proven benefits. As for athletes and sports enthusiasts, massage therapy is an integral part of their recovery and sports performance.
But you don’t have to be a professional athlete or hardcore CrossFitter to seek out an athletic massage — don’t let the name fool you. These types of massages are great for just about anyone with tight, overused muscles.
If you’re considering an athletic massage to help soothe your aches and pains, here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your time on the massage table.
Find the Right Massage Specialist
If you can get a referral from a friend or even a fellow athlete to a licensed massage therapist who has helped them, you’re off to the best possible start. In other words, you want to book an appointment with a therapist who knows their way around tired, overworked muscles.
Not all massage therapists are created equal. You should try to see a therapist that specializes in orthopedic treatment, as they are well-versed in when to refer you for chronic pain or issues that they just can’t help you with.
If you can find a therapist that specializes in athlete and sports enthusiast rehabilitation, then that’s even better. They should have a good knowledge of how to work your muscles, without causing excessive amounts of pain. They also have the best tools for the job, such as percussion massagers and more.
Schedule Your Appointment at the Right Time
There is no hard and fast rule on when to book a sports massage. Most of the time, the timing depends on your own schedule and the amount of tension you’re experiencing. But a good rule-of-thumb to keep in mind is to schedule your appointment when you have enough time to relax, after.
Post-massage you may feel a little tender and sore, or even sleepy and unable to concentrate. You may want to avoid heading back to work right after this type of massage as they are usually far more intense. It’s best to head home, and take a long warm bath to help the muscles relax.
If you can, schedule your massage for the afternoon, or sometime over the weekend.
Always Exercise Before a Massage
It’s never a good idea to head to the gym, a CrossFit session, or on a long run after an intense sports massage. If exercise is part of your daily routine, make sure you get your workout done in the morning, and schedule your massage for the afternoon for the best results.
This way, you’re giving your body ample amount of time to lap up the benefits of the massage, before you put your muscles under strain again.
Time Your Meals Properly
Depending on your area(s) of pain and tension, you may find yourself lying face down on a massage table for the most part of an hour. The last thing you want is to lie down on a full stomach for that long!
For this reason, be smart about how you time your meals and what you drink before your massage. Try to avoid eating a large meal for at least an hour pre-massage, and limit your liquid intake for at least 30-minutes beforehand.
It’s also wise to avoid alcohol before an athletic massage as you don’t want to inhibit your sensation or cause dehydration.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
One of the best ways to get the most out of an athletic massage is to be completely transparent with your therapist. Leave your pride at the door and do a thorough job of explaining what your needs are. The more detail you can provide about your aches and pains, the more effective your massage therapy will be.
It’s also not a good time to keep quiet or be polite about massage pressure. If your therapist is not applying enough pressure, ask them for more. On other hand, if it’s too painful, don’t keep quiet about it! Speak up and let them know.
It’s important to understand your own comfort tolerance. You don’t want a sports massage to be too comfortable, but it should not be unbearably painful either.
Keep Yourself Well Hydrated
While it’s not an exact science that drinking tons of water after a massage has any proven benefit, it’s still important to hydrate well. If your body does hang onto any type of lactic acid build-up, drinking water could help move it along.
Try to drink at least 1 liter of water after your massage and avoid highly caffeinated drinks such as coffee, energy drinks, and alcohol. These types of beverages only encourage inflammation, which is what you want to avoid after a sports massage.
Avoid a Sports Massage Before a Race
If you’re due to participate in a big race, whether it’s running, cycling, swimming, or even a CrossFit match, you don’t want to get a sports massage the day before. You may find that a sports massage causes pain and a little inflammation in certain areas, which can negatively impact your race performance.
If you want to prepare for race day with a massage, schedule it for a week beforehand. This gives your muscles time to relax and adjust before the big day.
Speak up About Bruising
It’s no secret that a sports massage can leave behind a tinge of bruising due to the pressure applied by your therapist. This is normal, depending on the type of pressure you prefer and your comfort tolerance.
However, if you are very prone to bruising, it’s always wise to let your therapist know before your massage. Especially if you take any type of blood-thinning medication. They can adjust their pressure as they need to so they don’t cause any unnecessary harm. If you want to be extra safe, it’s a good idea to apply an icepack to the area post-massage.
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Athletic massage is a brilliant way to ensure your muscles are getting the TLC they deserve and improve your overall performance. As the saying goes ”prevention is better than cure”, so by taking care of your body, you can avoid injury and downtime.
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