Many consider massage to be an unnecessary self-indulgence, a way to pamper oneself, or the first stop on a “girls’ day out at the spa” itinerary.
These beliefs, however, leave out the very real benefits (physical, mental, and even social!) that massage can provide.
I had a chance to discuss massage with Midtown’s new therapist, Yvonne Zipter, and got answers to a few questions that will help you get the most out of your massage experience.
What Can Massage Do for Me?
Talk to many doctors, physical therapists, and personal trainers and they will tell you that tight muscles are weak and prone to injury. Exercise can help strengthen weak areas and improve muscle imbalances, but loosening particularly tight areas of muscle (often referred to as “knots”) can help speed the process.
So what does massage do to help even the casual exerciser improve overall health and performance?
Augment muscle repair and reduce inflammation and soreness
Help increase range of motion and improve physical performance (e.g. jump height)
Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles
Release endorphins – the body’s natural pain killers
Reduce spasms and cramping
So Where Do I Start?
Massage is not, as the saying goes, “one size fits all.” To get the most out of your massage experience, your massage should be tailored to your fitness routine. Let’s look at some examples from Yvonne.
For you Pilates fans out there, a massage that breaks up adhesions in the soles of the feet can help you become more flexible and better able to perform the small movements necessary to get the most out of each exercise.
Runners, cyclists, and other endurance athletes may benefit from techniques such as myofascial release and trigger point therapy (see below) to relieve pain in vulnerable areas such as the Achilles tendon and illiotibial (IT) band.
Here are some o f the most common massage techniques/types to consider when working with your therapist
Swedish: gentle technique that uses long strokes to help relax and energize you
Deep-tissue: technique that uses slower, more forceful strokes to target deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, often to help with muscle damage from injuries
Sports: similar technique to Swedish that helps prevent and treat sports-related injuries
Myofascial Release: technique that uses long, stretching strokes to release tension
Trigger Point: technique that uses pressure to loosen sensitive areas of tight muscle fibers (“trigger points”) that can form in your muscles after injuries or overuse.
Is Massage Really for Me?
Although massage is generally a safe healing practice, it can pose some risks especially if you have an injury. Speak to your health care provider about any current conditions to determine whether massage therapy is right for you. You may experience some discomfort during or mild soreness after a session, particularly if a more intense form of massage is being used (e.g. trigger point).
The key is to communicate with your therapist. Make sure to discuss all potential health problems before your session, and don’t be afraid to speak up during your session if something hurts!
Sure, not every muscle issue requires the attention of massage therapist. Icing, stretching, rest and other types of self-care can help reduce muscle pain and improve physical function as well.
But, as Yvonne says, “if you have a nagging muscle issue brought on by too many squats, a marathon session of hoops, or too much front crawl, you should think about spelling relief M-A-S-S-A-G-E.”
What do you think? Has massage helped you maintain peak fitness performance?
Kristen Schumacher is the Marketing Coordinator for Midtown Athletic Clubs. When she is not training for her next distance race, she enjoys cooking, singing, and spending time with her friends and family.