Recognising the warning signs......
The body is very good at adapting to bio-mechanical dysfunction, mostly without our conscious awareness. When primary muscles are overloaded, or otherwise injured (primary injury area), other local and smaller (compensatory) muscles are automatically directed to support (stabilise) the impaired muscles so that normal function is maintained.
If the impaired muscles are not given time to repair, damage to the fibres continues (seen under a microscope as micro tears and adhesions) and if adjustments are not made to promote primary area healing, persistent over-use of compensatory muscles causes them to become fatigued, inhibiting their contraction (secondary injury area) to the point that they can no longer compensate efficiently.
At this point, most people will start to notice the symptoms of dysfunction i.e. tightness, pain, limited range of movement (ROM), etc.
These pain sensations are warning signs telling us that the body is struggling to cope with the current activity load. Moreover, they are also telling us that continual over-stressing will exacerbate the symptoms increasing the risk of injury and, without appropriate intervention – time to repair, heal and recover - increase the risk of chronic injury.
The only safe way to recover from chronic injury is through rest and treatment, which could take 3 weeks to 6 months to recover fully, perhaps longer in extreme cases, after which time conditioning and fitness will be considerably reduced. Careful management and exercise prescription are crucial to ensure a safe return to full fitness in a way that reduces the risk of re-injury.
How can sports massage help reduce the on-set of injury?
Training hard to meet our goals takes a lot of hard work and commitment. Sports massage can play an important role in achieving these goals.
Regular check-ups by a Soft Tissue Massage Therapist during bouts of high activity / training loads, can spot warning signs early, often enabling them to be treated there and then. They also help to alleviate areas of tightness on more immediate basis serving to maintain healthy soft tissue function. If the body does reach a state of chronic dysfunction, soft tissue treatment is fundamental to promote the repair and recovery of impaired muscles back to a state of health.
From a physiological perspective, and aside from promoting repair and recovery of tissue damage, soft tissue massage therapy is also beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Manual physical therapy dilates the blood vessels, helping them work more efficiently.
This manual assistance encourages venous blood to flow back to the heart, enhancing blood flow, delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to the tissue and promoting the removal of waste products and toxins. In turn, this also helps to relieve muscle tension, reduce soreness and make for faster recovery.
Massage therapy also reduces general stress, tension and anxiety and promotes relaxation by activating your parasympathetic nervous system; an increase in dopamine and serotonin levels and a reduction in cortisol levels, which are directly linked to stress. That relaxed, lowered-tension state encourages focus, which is really good to have before the onset of any group exercise class or competition.
Perhaps less obvious are the psychological benefits that soft tissue and remedial massage can bring to treatment….
performance does not rely solely on physical strength. The psychological state of an athlete can have considerable effect on the outcome of performance.
As well as stimulating the para-sympathetic nervous system, therapeutic massage provides peace of mind through a self-awareness that the body is in a good state of repair, both throughout training and in the build up to competition, thus boosting self-confidence and giving confidence, you are doing all the right things in order to achieve your goals.
So, what can we learn from this? In short, try to start thinking of your body & mind as a favourite plant feed & water; or much-loved car or bike that you clean & have serviced regularly. A little bit of preventative maintenance can spot early symptoms of something that isn't quite right and prevent a niggle becoming a longer lay-off from training. If this strikes a chord drop me a note to talk through how soft tissue therapy could keep you active and niggle free.