Sports massage can increase flexibility in a number of ways. Post-exercise discomfort isn’t caused by a build-up of lactic acid, as previously thought; it’s due to micro-tears and adhesions in the muscle fibres. Massage helps to remove these adhesions (created by haphazardly deposited collagen fibres), as well as to remove waste products. Regular sports massages help muscles to recover from exercise, reduce injuries and, over time, promote extra flexibility in limbs and trunk.
If your muscles are tight
Deep tissue massage raises the tissue temperature (by increasing blood flow to the area), removes the adhesions that hinder movement, reduces post-exercise swelling and pain and gets the muscle ready to work again. If a muscle has lots of tiny scars and adhesions, it can’t stretch and rebound fully or comfortably, making exercise less efficient. Freeing the muscle up allows it to move to its full extent.
A strong massage will also release endorphins – the body’s own painkillers – into the area, which prevents muscles tightening up further, which can cause additional pain and make someone reluctant to work out again. A regular regime of massage helps people to maintain an exercise programme, leading to better results.
Massage “trains” individual muscle fibres
Exercise sends signals between muscles and brain, and so does massage. Stretching muscle fibres means that the spindle (the fibre’s stretch receptor) sends a message to the brain to say it’s under pressure, setting off a contraction reflex. When the muscle attempts to contract, it creates tension in the Golgi organ (a sensory organ, located at the join between muscle and tendon, which monitors stretch and tension). The Golgi organ sends signals to the brain and spine “warning” them of this tension, but over time, with repeated bouts of tension (stretching and massage), the signals are reduced and the muscle becomes accustomed to its new length – which is what we call flexibility.
How does flexibility benefit an athlete?
Greater flexibility gives athletes and sportspeople (or anyone who exercises or works out) an increased range of movement with a reduced risk of strain or injury. This maximises a person’s performance and reduces recovery time between workouts.
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