I bet when you hear “massage therapy,” the first thing that comes to mind is cucumber water and lavender oil, and you’re not totally wrong. But massage therapy can be so much more than refreshing beverages and aromatherapy. Still skeptical? I understand, you don’t have to take my word for it—research has shown over and over again that stress is one of the culprits of many ailments such as depression and anxiety.
The good news is that massage therapy not only helps you relax, it also helps you heal! Yup, you heard it, massage helps your soft tissue, like muscles, tendons, and fascia heal. How, you ask? Allow me to elaborate.
We all know massage is a good way to unwind after a hard day. What's interesting is what happens when you achieve relaxation. The sympathetic nervous system (also known as the “fight or flight” system) calms down, letting the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as “rest and digest” system) to take over. In other words, during this state, the body repairs damaged tissues wherever they may be, including your brain. This is a very broad way that massage therapy helps you achieve better performance, whether it’s at the office or in your marathon training.
Let’s explore how massage can help your training in more detail, shall we?
For example, let’s say you just finished a 10-mile run. Your body feels relaxed and your mind alert, but that right IT band is tight and achy again! Even though you have been stretching and foam rolling it before and after running, you should not panic and most certainly should not ignore it. We all know how a tight IT band can wreak havoc on a runner’s training. But don’t despair—massage therapy is here to help.
Massage increases blood flow to soft tissue like tendons and fascia that are less vascular (have less blood flow) than muscle. It also removes lactic acid build-up by reducing pain, ergo helping you achieve optimal performance.
Let’s look at another scenario: You just had ACL or patellar tendon reconstruction. You are doing great with physical therapy but you can’t achieve full extension of your knee—not because it hurts, but because it has no “give.” Your scar tissue may be playing a part in this. Massage therapy can break up and smooth out scar tissue, helping it un-adhere from the surrounding structures so you achieve those last few degrees of movement.
Sometimes it’s not as serious as scar tissue from surgery. Adhesions in muscles and tendons can appear after a run if you are not hydrating or stretching properly. A massage can help those adhesions disappear before they get worse. Or, let’s say you just ran the TCS New York City Marathon and your muscles are feeling tight. Go get a massage, you deserve it!
If you’d like to book a session with one of Hospital for Special Surgery’s experienced massage therapists, contact the HSS Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center or the Integrative Care Center. Wherever you choose to schedule an appointment, always make sure your massage therapist is licensed and works for a reputable company.
Beatriz Villabona, LMT is the Massage Coordinator at HSS Rehabilitation.