The benefits of sports massage

It is pretty irritating as a physiotherapist who has worked hard getting a degree and/or masters in physiotherapy, has done loads of post grad training and has slowly but surely built a specialism in the diagnosis and treatment of pain and injury, to be greeted with the gesticulation of massage when you tell someone you are a physio.

I would say about 10% of my job is massage, the rest of it being, in order of importance:
1) Assessing and diagnosing 
2) Listening, analysing, advising and reassuring
3) Correcting movement patterns and prescribing tailored exercises
4) Carrying out manual techniques including massage, joint manipulation and acupuncture.
5) Writing notes, reports and letters to consultants, insurance companies and employers
6) CPD/ training (should really be slotted in above number 1)

Having said this I am a massive fan of massage and sometimes get frustrated when other physios seem to ignore it’s benefits. I know this is because they are often under pressure not to use ‘passive techniques’ like massage that involve the presence of a physio and are therefore more expensive than a sheet of exercises or a group exercise class. I experienced this first hand as a physiotherapist on the NHS. I am also fully aware of the limitations of massage and the importance of recognising the potential harm that regular massage can do in disempowering someone and making them dependent on treatment. That’s the thing about being a clinician though, you always way up the benefits and risks of every treatment and make sure the benefits out weigh the risks.

Anyway, back to the topic of this blog! This week I was asked to for my ‘physiotherapy expert’ opinion on the benefits of sports massage. So I did a mini literature review on the topic and thought, well why not blog about what I picked up. (If anyone out there reading this has done a more comprehensive lit review on the subject then let me know.)

In summary, sports massage has been found to be effective in improving recovery, performance, fatigue and pain (most of the studies I looked at were in athletes.) It has not been shown to improve general circulation (although it does improve local superficial circulation) or flexibility (you need to stretch and do eccentric muscle strengthening for this.) Here are some quotes from a few articles:

‘Athletes having regular massage are twice as likely to achieve their goals’ (Dawson et al, 2011)

‘Massage is proven to reduce back pain’ (Cochrane Review, 2002)

‘Massage therapy reduces pain and improves function in some musculoskeletal conditions.’ (Bervoets et al, 2015)

Massage therapy is effective on post-race recovery from pain and fatigue in long-distance triathlon athletes. (Nunes et al, 2016)

A post-exercise massage session can improve the exercise performance and recovery rate in male bodybuilders after intensive exercise. (Kargarfard et al 2015)

All of the Octopus Clinic Physiotherapists and Osteopaths do massage as well as physio and osteopathy and we have appointments available from 7.30am to 8pm so please get in touch to book an appointments. If you are not sure if you need sports massage, physiotherapy or osteopathy please get in touch and we can point you in the right direction.

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