Joan Cole Massage

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Improve Sports Recovery

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Swedish massage, especially kneading, with special attention to the muscle groups used in the sport or exercise program, enhanced with techniques of remedial work aimed at improving flexibility by encouraging the body to allow muscles to lengthen.


In striving to be better, the athlete attempts to systematically increase the level of training... thereby subjecting the body to gradual and controlled overuse. This overuse can often create imbalances and problems in the soft tissues, which if ignored may become chronic.

Tight knotted muscles don't optimally absorb the impact of strenuous exertion, but transfer the stress to the bones and joints. Muscles knot up due to being overworked or overstretched by stronger opposing muscle groups. Massage helps your body let go and allow the muscles to release and lengthen.

Athletes have long recognized the value of massaging their muscles after an intense workout but experts have been unsure of how necessary or how effective the practice is. But recent research at Ohio State University showed measurable effects from pressure similar to Swedish massage in muscle recovery time, amount of damage and evidence of swelling and inflammation.

Swedish massage is the base style of sports massage. This massage style originated in an athletic context - specifically fencing. Both Swedish massage and physical therapy are traced back to fencing master Per Henrik Ling's system of Swedish gymnastics.

The main strokes used in sports massage are:

  • Petrissage - (Kneading) To mobilize fluids, stretch muscle fibers, free adhesions and improve local circulation
  • Compression - To spread the muscle fibers, enhancing their ability to contract and relax as well as bringing more nutrients and oxygen to the muscles
  • Friction - To broaden muscle fibers and free them from adhesions
  • Percussion - To disperse tension and stimulate blood flow
  • Jostling - To loosen and stretch connective tissue, to increase circulation, and unwind tight muscles.

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The Russians and Eastern Europeans, who incorporated massage into sports training programs with such great effectiveness in the old days of the Soviet Union, applied rehabilitative massage no earlier than 2 - 2.5 hours after vigorous exercise. The massage sessions lasted from 30-40 minutes to 1 hour. During this time the massage therapist worked on the athlete's whole body with special attention to the muscular groups which were overloaded during the exercises or competition. 40-50% of massage time was spent on kneading. While the amount of pressure applied was significant, it stayed below the threshhold of activating the pain analyzing system. (source: Boris Prilutsky)

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More about sports massage and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)

For many years, people believed that accumulations of lactic acid in the muscles were the reason for DOMS. Whether lactic acid has anything to do with the "burn" feeeling during exercise, more recent research has shown that it is actually a fuel and naturally flushes within an hour, absolving it of blame for DOMS. (nice summary here and here)

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It's far more likely that DOMS is due to the reaction to microscopic injury to muscle fibers, and the inflammatory healing response that includes swelling (edema): the migration of the neutrophils into the skeletal muscles, as described by (Smith, L.L et al., 1994) "Since sport massage appears to increase blood flow through the vascular bed, the increased flow rate in the area of micro trauma could prevent the typical outward displacement of neutrophils. In addition, the mechanical action of sports massage could shear marginated cells from vessel walls and thus hinder emigration of cells from the circulation into tissues spaces... Sports massage rendered two hours after termination of unaccustomed eccentric exercise reduces the intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness and reduces serum creatine kinase levels."

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Smith L.L., Keating M.N., Holbert D., Spratt D.S., McCammon M.R., Smith S.S., Israel R.G. The Effect of Athletic Massage on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Creatine Kinase and Neutrophil Count. J. Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 19(2):93-99, 1994.

A more detailed examination of the studies on DOMS and sports massage can be found in Oleg Bouimer's article in the Journal of Massage Science (Sep/Oct 2009)

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