Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - BY JESS PEARO

MANY ATH­LETES AS­SUME re­ceiv­ing mas­sage ther­apy fre­quently will help them pre­vent in­jury and im­prove per­for­mance. What does the re­search say about triath­letes re­ceiv­ing fre­quent mas­sage? Does mas­sage truly have an im­pact on per­for­mance and re­cov­ery? Un­for­tu­nately, the re­search is full of un­cer­tainty. Many of the stud­ies have been in­con­clu­sive or have been poorly de­signed to clearly show ev­i­dence to­wards the use of mas­sage ther­apy. Here is what we do know: Be­fore any race, triath­letes un­dergo both a phys­i­o­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal warm-up. Pos­i­tive anx­i­ety is height­ened pre­race, caus­ing blood pres­sure to be el­e­vated. This can have both a pos­i­tive or po­ten­tially neg­a­tive ef­fect. A lit­er­a­ture re­view con­ducted in 2008 shows that mas­sage be­fore an ac­tiv­ity can in­flu­ence blood pres­sure, di­rectly ef­fect­ing per­for­mance. Ef­fleurage and petris­sage mas­sage tech­niques (gen­tle stroking along the mus­cle belly) have been shown to re­duce blood pres­sure while deep fric­tion mas­sage and trig­ger point re­lease in­creases blood pres­sure. There­fore, the re­search points to­wards gen­tle tech­niques as the best op­tion to re­duce ath­lete anx­i­ety pre-event. How­ever, you can also ar­gue that you want to in­crease the ac­tiv­ity of the sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem, which is re­spon­si­ble for the fight or flight re­sponse, and the re­lease of pos­i­tive hor­mones used to im­prove per­for­mance. By do­ing trig­ger point re­lease (sus­tained pres­sure on a mus­cle “knot”), you may in­di­rectly in­crease the sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem re­sponse and in­crease the ath­lete’s ex­cite­ment for ac­tiv­ity. Many peo­ple as­sume that mas­sage im­proves flex­i­bil­ity and strength. The lit­er­a­ture has not con­cluded that there is any di­rect ef­fect of mas­sage on im­prov­ing flex­i­bil­ity and strength in the long term. There does seem to be a tran­sient in­crease in flex­i­bil­ity, but this seems to only be ev­i­dent in ath­letes who have less than nor­mal flex­i­bil­ity. Each triath­lete is dif­fer­ent and clin­i­cians should be aware of the type of ath­lete they are deal­ing with. If they tend to have a calm per­son­al­ity, pre-race trig­ger point re­lease and deep mas­sage may be ben­e­fi­cial. How­ever, if they are a highly anx­ious per­son it may be more ap­pro­pri­ate to use ef­fleurage and lighter mas­sage be­fore they race. The re­search is not well de­vel­oped in this area, so each ath­lete should learn what works best for them. Whether or not the ac­tual mas­sage in­flu­ences the strength or flex­i­bil­ity of mus­cles is up for de­bate, but there may be an in­di­rect ef­fect on per­for­mance based on anx­i­ety/mood and blood pres­sure. Ath­letes sub­jec­tively re­port that post-race mas­sage helps re­duce lac­tic acid de­vel­op­ment re­gard­less of what the re­search shows. How­ever, if an ath­lete is suf­fer­ing from an in­jury, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive mas­sage does seem to have lit­er­a­ture sup­port for cer­tain con­di­tions. The one ben­e­fit of hav­ing fre­quent mas­sages is the ath­lete is able to de­velop a good re­la­tion­ship with a ther­a­pist who knows their body. A trained mas­sage ther­a­pist or phys­io­ther­a­pist is able to pick up changes in the soft tis­sue which may be early signs of an in­jury or some­thing which needs to be ad­dressed. Whether or not a mas­sage will im­prove a triath­lete’s per­for­mance is up for de­bate, but it has been shown to im­prove the psy­cho­log­i­cal state of an ath­lete. Fur­ther re­search is war­ranted in this area be­fore we are able to give con­crete ev­i­dence for it. Un­til then, en­joy the re­lax­ation ben­e­fits.

Jess Pearo is a for­mer elite run­ner who now works as a phys­io­ther­a­pist.

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